In late December, Powell River welcomed its third refugee family. Originally from war-torn Syria, the family of five: mother, father and three school-aged children, travelled from Erbil, Iraq, to Istanbul, Toronto and Vancouver, finally landing safely in Powell River on the afternoon of December 22. This marks the end to years of waiting.
“The family has been in exile for four years,” said St. David and St. Paul Anglican Church parish outreach coordinator Lee Coulter.
The family is Kurdish/Syrian and originally from Qamishli, a Syrian city that borders Turkey. After an increase in ISIS and sectarian fighting in the region, they fled east to Iraq in February 2015, settling in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan. There they applied to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and received refugee status, becoming part of the more than five million Syrians who have escaped their country and approximately 250,000 now living in Iraq.
The process of getting a refugee family resettled in Canada is a lengthy one. In response to the Syrian crisis, local umbrella group Welcome Refugee Powell River was formed and various churches began fundraising and obtaining what is known as Sponsorship Agreement Holder credentials.
In 2016, the first two Syrian families came to Powell River with the support of local Catholic and Evangelical/Baptist churches. The application to bring a third family was started with the Parish of St. David and St. Paul in December 2016 through the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster. It was thought that the family would arrive before the end of 2017.
“I look back on my records and it’s almost two years to the day we put in the formal application to the diocese to sponsor them,” said Coulter. “I’m very grateful the process is now over.”
Coulter said there were several people to thank for their assistance in finally getting the family to Powell River.
“One of them is Drewen Young, constituency assistant in [North Island-Powell RiverMP] Rachel Blaney’s office. She kept in close contact with IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada), asked where our file was and if there was something we could do.”
Service Canada, Powell River Immigrant Services and School District 47 have also provided great assistance, he added.
Now will be the time for the family members to adjust to the major changes in their lives, including the language barrier.
“Their first language is Kurdish and nobody here speaks Kurdish,” said Coulter. “Our family will speak Arabic but no English.”
Coulter said it is important to remain sensitive to the culture shock they are now feeling.
“As exciting as it is for them to come to Canada it is terribly sad for them to leave,” he added. “They’ve had to say goodbye to the community they've been with, they’ve had to decide what they can pack in a very few number of bags. It’s very traumatic on both ends. We want to make them feel as comfortable as we can.”