The Omars, a refugee family from Syria that arrived in Whitehorse Mar. 30, 2017, moved to Calgary at the end of September. The second refugee family that came to Whitehorse moved to Windsor, Ont., a couple of months later. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Sponsored Syrian families depart Yukon

‘People were able to feel they were able to make a human connection’

The two families of Syrian refugees sponsored by the Riverdale Baptist Church have left Whitehorse and moved south.

The Omar family moved to Calgary at the end of September and the Ahmet family moved to Windsor, Ont. at the end of November, said Hillary Gladish, one of the organizers who helped bring the families to the Yukon.

In the case of the Omar family, Mohamed Omar, who has a PhD in geology, believed Calgary would be a better place for him to find work in his field, Gladish said. The Ahmet family decided to move to Windsor to be closer to the growing Syrian community there, including friends who are from the same village as the family, she said.

“Apparently the family friend has a small business, a mechanic’s business there, that Yaser (Ahmet) really felt confident that he could find employment with.”

The Ahmet and Omar families came to Whitehorse in September 2016 and March 2017, respectively. Gladish said Yukoners stepped up to make them feel comfortable. “The support included language support, employment, financial (and) emotional support,” she said.

“People were really willing to come along side the family and help in different ways.”

The Ahmet family came to Whitehorse using Canada’s blended visa program. Under that program, the federal government provides up to six months of financial support, with private sponsors responsible for another six months.

The Omar family were privately sponsored by the church, meaning there was no contribution from the federal government.

In both cases sponsors had a contractual obligation to support the families for the first year they were in Canada. Gladish said the church continued to support the Ahmet family even after the required year ran out. In the case of the Omar family the church will continue supporting them until at least March 2018, even though they no longer live in the territory, she said.

“I think that definitely a year for anyone is a challenging time, let alone coming to a place where you’re learning English and trying to get established and figure your way around and then build up your equity from there.

In both cases members of the families were able to find work in Whitehorse. They’ve now been connected with churches and other organizations that can help them in their new homes, Gladish said.

The congregation has not talked about whether it wants to sponsor more refugee families. Gladish said the families they did sponsor felt supported by the community.

“I think regardless of whether people agreed or didn’t agree with Canada’s emphasis with bringing Syrian refugees to Canada, I think that through this experience people were able to feel they were able to make a human connection and I think that was one of the biggest learning things that came out of this.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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