Whitehorse woman hopes to bring Syrian refugees to the Yukon

A Whitehorse woman is hoping to rally people to bring at least one Syrian family to the Yukon amidst the growing refugee and humanitarian crisis overseas.

A Whitehorse woman is hoping to rally people to bring at least one Syrian family to the Yukon amidst the growing refugee and humanitarian crisis overseas.

Raquel de Queiroz has been researching ways to help and is holding a meeting next week on the subject.

“I think a lot of Yukoners will identify with that feeling of concern and seeing the crisis on the news and just wishing that there was something they could do,” she said.

Refugees have been risking their lives for years to flee violence and civil war in Syria, often taking to the seas and paying smugglers to try and get out.

The image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose body was pulled off a Turkish beach after he and his family tried to escape to Europe, has recently brought the issue back into the national spotlight.

The UN Refugee Agency estimates more than four million people have fled Syria and are officially registered as refugees, mostly in countries including Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq.

More than seven million people are considered internally displaced within Syria.

Meanwhile, UN officials on the ground say they only have enough funds to meet about 37 per cent of the needs there.

Developed countries, including Canada, have come under increased pressure to take in more refugees.

In January, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada would resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years. Now, in the middle of a federal election, he has been criticized by both opposing political parties for not doing more.

There are two ways a family could arrive in the Yukon, de Queiroz said.

The first is called a “group of five” sponsorship, because five people are required to sign on to support a family of four for a year after they arrive.

“Once the family arrives, that group of five people will be their family here,” de Queiroz said.

That means helping both financially and emotionally with tasks like opening a bank account, learning English and adapting to their new home.

The sponsorship requires that at least $27,000 be raised per family before an application will even be considered.

The second option is to join up with a community organization that already has a sponsorship agreement with the Canadian government. De Queiroz has already reached out to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, which has a coordinator experienced in putting applications together. She expects to meet with the church this week.

At the core, the two options aren’t much different. Both involve the same minimum amount of money and a group of Canadians willing to sign the paperwork to take responsibility for the family.

De Queiroz believes that joining on to the archdiocese’s agreement could help move things along faster.

This upcoming public meeting is for anyone who is interested in helping, not just people willing to officially sign on as sponsors, she said.

Other people will need to be involved in fundraising, both to get the initial $27,000 and after the family arrives.

“In the Yukon, $27,000 for a full year is not going to cover it,” she said.

“So we’re going to need to raise more money to cover heat and rent and hopefully those families, once they’re here, they can get jobs, they can start making their own income.”

Another group needs to be focused on political advocacy, she said.

“We can raise all the money in the world, we can have the papers in place, but ultimately this takes political will.”

De Queiroz said the process to come to Canada as a refugee takes 18 months.

“Unfortunately, those families can’t wait 18 months. So I’m really hoping that they can speed up the applications and hopefully we can get more families in.”

De Queiroz came to Canada as an immigrant from Brazil in 2005.

Her process was fairly straightforward, she said. She is a nurse and B.C. was looking to fill those jobs. She became a permanent resident and eventually got her citizenship.

That experience means she’s comfortable with all the paperwork that can come with immigration issues, she said.

She’s also already started a GoFundMe campaign to begin raising money. It can be found at http://www.gofundme.com/3k3babf5

The public meeting is scheduled for Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Whitehorse Public Library.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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