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Dialogue has started locally on sponsoring fleeing Syrians

Jack Poirier Community support is building for a grassroots plan to sponsor and bring Syrian refugees to Sarnia-Lambton.
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Jack Poirier

Community support is building for a grassroots plan to sponsor and bring Syrian refugees to Sarnia-Lambton.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said he’s received a very positive response after calling on local leaders, the Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership, religious groups and the county to come together and address the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

“This is a very complex issue and not an easy thing to get engaged in,” said Bradley, who also chairs the economic partnership, whose mandate includes attracting newcomers.

“This is not a debate about federal policy. What we’re looking at is an international version of the (county’s) Circles Program. You just can’t write a cheque.”

SLEP will take the lead role in bringing together community groups and churches to sponsor refugees from Syria. Bradley expects an initial meeting date to be set this week.

Almost four million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries and half of the nation’s people have been displaced from their homes since civil war erupted five years ago

Toronto’s Lifeline Syria is being used as a model locally. The volunteer organization is the lead national organization on refugee settlement in Canada.

Sponsoring a family of four for a year costs about $27,000, according to Lifeline Syria. But refugees require a lot of other support, said Ratna Omidvar, chair of the organization and founding executive director of the Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University.

“In smaller communities like Sarnia, the money is going to go further,” she said. “But that is only the beginning. Small communities provide great advantages and can really help and support; put their arms around a family.”

It’s important, however, to provide refugees with links to their culture, she added.

“I would encourage identifying Arab-speaking people (within the community) to work with the refugees for a sustained welcome. Make other Syrians (living there) front and centre.”

Bradley said overtures made to Sarnia’s small Syrian community have been well received.

Canada has promised to open its doors to 10,000 Syrians over the next three years, and the government is counting on groups of Canadians to come together and sponsor them.

Bradley believes the local community will step up. Sarnia-Lambton has a long history of welcoming refugees, he said, including Italian and Dutch immigrants following the Second World War, and Sarnia churches rallying to support families from Vietnam in the 1970s.

Breakdown on sponsorship costs:

$20,000-$21,000: income support for 1 year

$1,150: Basic clothing allowance: $325 per adult; $250 per child

$600 for winter clothing

$2,945: Basic furnishings, linens, household products, etc.

$400: Food staples

$300: School supplies and fees

(Citizenship and Immigration Canada)

How to apply:

Applications to sponsor a refugee are accepted from groups of five or more permanent residents (known as Groups of Five). Also accepted from Sponsorship Agreement Holders, usually churches or charitable groups.

Application forms available at the Citizenship and Immigration,

The process can take a year or more before a refugee is matched up.

Groups of Five must be Canadian citizens or permanent residents, over 18, who commit to sponsorship, which can be monetary or in-kind donations.

How to help right now:

Numerous international charities are taking donations to directly assist Syria’s war refugees.

They include the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Canadian Red Cross, World Vision, Oxfam and War Child.