Ottawa groups rally to welcome Syrian refugees

While the government announced details today of its ambitious plan to resettle Syrian refugees to Canada, organizations and people in Ottawa continued to work frantically to make sure they are up to the task.

“There’s a lot of energy and excitement,” said Carl Nicholson, executive director of the Catholic Centre for Immigrants. Nicholson said he is optimistic the city is ready, having heard “tons of good ideas” from people across the city who want to help.

Refugee organizations and community groups are leading the charge. Several have organized events this week to raise awareness and make Ottawa a more welcoming place for refugees.

“I think people really want to figure out what they can do concretely and to think with others about what we can do,” said Fiona Jeffries, an organizer with Refugees Welcome Ottawa. The coalition is hosting a series of events this week, including a community discussion this Friday.

Jeffries said that while much of the focus has been placed on private sponsorship, not everyone has the financial and social resources to sponsor a refugee. She hopes her organization’s work will motivate more people to do their part.

Refugee resettlement expert James Milner agreed there are more than enough opportunities for those looking to help. “If you’re not part of a group that’s sponsoring a refugee, there are other ways to be involved,” said Milner, an associate professor at Carleton University. “If you’re just interested in volunteering a day a month, an afternoon a week, there are ways you can do that. That’s probably one of the most important ways to contribute to this pathway to integration.”

Parish ready to welcome refugees before Christmas

Pierre Beemans, a member of Ottawa’s Canadian Martyrs Catholic Church, is proud that his parish will soon welcome a family of seven refugees. The church has been preparing since April, after learning of the plight of Syrian refugees in Iraq. “We had only two people who said, ‘We don’t think it’s such a good idea.’ But we had almost 90 that said ‘We’re fully behind it and we’re willing to contribute financially or with furniture or with clothing or helping with the children or language classes and so on.’”

After months of fundraising and preparations, Beemans is anxiously awaiting the family’s arrival before Christmas.

“Are you ever as fully ready as you should be? No, but we’re certainly ready to do it. The buy-in is very strong and the commitment all across the board is really amazing.”




Author: Marc-André Cossette

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