Whitehorse will soon be home to a second family of Syrian refugees.
The family of five is being sponsored by the Riverdale Baptist Church. They are expected to arrive sometime in the next four to 12 weeks.
“It’s fantastic news,” said Hillary Gladish, who’s helping to organize the sponsorship. “It’s so exciting, but really daunting as well.”
Gladish said the family is currently living in Turkey and is ready to travel to Canada. The oldest child is 12 and the two others are 11-year-old twins. She said the father has some experience with heavy machinery. The family speaks Arabic and Turkish.
At the moment, Gladish said, the church is looking for a three-bedroom apartment or house for rent, ideally starting in September. She’s also putting out a call for Turkish-speaking volunteers, as Whitehorse’s Arabic-speaking translators are already busy working with the first family of Syrian refugees that arrived in January.
But Gladish said the church is well-stocked in terms of material goods to give the family. It is still collecting cash donations, but she said gift cards to places like Canadian Tire or Walmart are the best donations right now.
This Syrian family is coming to Canada under the blended visa program, which matches refugees identified by the United Nations Refugee Agency with private sponsors in Canada. Under this program, the federal government provides up to six months of financial support, with the private sponsors responsible for another six months and for social and emotional support throughout the first year.
The Riverdale Baptist Church has partnered with the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada to sponsor the family.
Gladish said the church is planning to bring a third Syrian family to Whitehorse as well, under an entirely private sponsorship. But that process could take much longer, even though it was started earlier.
That family of four is living in Iraq, where there is no Canadian immigration office. The average processing time for privately sponsored refugees in Iraq is 49 months, according to the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada website. That means the family could be waiting in Iraq till after 2020.
Gladish said the drawn-out timeline made the church decide to sponsor a second family through the blended visa program.
“We sort of recognized that the expectation was to sponsor a family within months, not years,” she said.
To date, she said, the Riverdale Baptist Church has raised about $45,600 to support Syrian refugee families, and the Yukon government is contributing another $18,500.
That money, together with contributions from the federal government and the Canada Child Benefit, will be enough to support the two families, Gladish said.
Meanwhile, Whitehorse’s first Syrian refugees, the Aarafats, are planning to host a public event this Sunday to thank everyone who has supported their transition to life in the Yukon.
Raquel de Queiroz, co-founder of Yukon Cares, the group that sponsored the Aarafats, said the family has been busy with English lessons at the multicultural centre. Hussein and Fatima’s two oldest sons are also working – one is training to be a hairdresser and the other works at a drugstore.
De Queiroz said the family has been in good spirits and has bonded with the local Arabic and Muslim community.
“So far they’ve been really enjoying it,” she said. “They’ve done fishing lots. They really like fishing. We’ve taken them to several of the cultural events around town and they’ve experienced a bit of everything and I think they really like it.”
She said the family members came out to the Canada Day parade, even though they were fasting for Ramadan.
They’ve also planted gardens and have built a greenhouse at their home, she said, adding that they had a big garden back in Syria.
Yukon Cares still has plans to bring Fatima’s brother to the Yukon as a private sponsorship, but the group doesn’t yet have enough money. De Queiroz said she plans to ramp up fundraising again later this summer.
The event on Sunday will take place at the Copperbelt Railway and Mining Museum between 2 and 4 p.m. There will be free train rides and the Aarafat family will be serving cake.
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