Ottawa is still waiting for word on when Syrian refugees will arrive in the capital, as refugees touched ground this week, ready to make their new home in Canada.
The first wave of an expected 10,000 refugees arrived in Toronto on Thursday, and more will be flying into Montreal on Saturday.
Ottawa wasn’t on the list of destinations for those recently arrived. Refugees en route to other communities in Ontario started their journey the day after they arrived, after a final security check and health assessment.
Privately sponsored refugees will make up the bulk of this first group of around 300.
Although citizenship and immigration officials don’t know when Ottawa will be receiving its new residents, generous citizens have already offered to sponsor 157 refugees. Mayor Jim Watson has said that the city could receive as many as 2,000 refugees in the next few months. Besides the more essential tasks of finding a home and a job, refugees also need help with food, clothing, understanding cultural practices, and translation.
It seems a gargantuan task for Ottawa’s refugee assistance groups. But Leslie Emory, executive director of the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization, said that it’s business as usual for her team. “It may mean that we’re a little bit busier,” she said, in areas such as their school settlement program, language instruction school and high demand for Arabic translators. On average, they help over 10,000 refugees a year, she said. “With the numbers coming in between now and the end of the year, we’re going to be able to deal with these people within our current programming, so we don’t see any challenges there.”
Emory said that the response from Ottawa residents has been “incredible.”
“The community’s interest in every aspect of the refugees’ arrival is sort of unprecedented,” she said. “The community is so supportive and willing to help in any way they can, so it’s very inspiring for us.”
Although Emory is grateful for the keen interest in helping the new arrivals, she said that volunteers and donations will be most needed when refugees actually arrive in Ottawa.
Carole Gagnon, spokesperson for the United Way campaign “United For Refugees” called the outpouring of support “tremendous” in fundraising and donations of space, skills and time.
Through an online campaign and social media blitz, the organization has raised $428,000 since October. The organization will donate the funds to help with sponsorship and resettlement programs like counseling, language training, and employment services. Gagnon said her partner organizations are ready to help after much practice welcoming immigrants. “They have a good system that they can rely on and build on,” she said.
Both Emory and Gagnon said the most important thing for Ottawa residents to do, besides volunteering or sponsoring, is to be friendly and accepting of refugees moving into their neighbourhoods. “Take every opportunity to be welcoming,” Emory said, “That goes a long, long way to [making] the newcomer feel as if they belong.”
Want to help?
Groups of five or more Ottawa residents and community organizations can apply to the government to become sponsors. Sponsors agree to help refugees with housing, support and other necessities for starting a new life in Canada, for at least one year. Refugee 613, a group of volunteers coordinating efforts in the city, is one of the go-to places for information about how to help with resettlement efforts or to sponsor a refugee.
The Catholic Centre for Immigrants is also helping with sponsorship efforts and resettlement programs.
The Government of Canada offers a handy guide to the private sponsorship program. It includes instructions on how to apply, costs and what to expect if you’re sponsoring a refugee.
Need a little bit of extra help?? The Refugee Sponsorship Training Program offers workshops, e-training and webinars.
You can also donate food, money, or your time to refugee resettlement organizations.
The Government of Canada also offers information to help citizens get involved with donations, volunteering or sponsoring — 1-844-61 SYRIA
Refugee 613 can help connect those wishing to volunteer with agencies in the city.
United for Refugees is a United Way donation campaign to support refugee resettlement organizations and sponsorship.
The Muslim Coordinating Council of the National Capital Region has started a drive for donations and household items.