Ideas have been flowing fast and furious since we gathered as a community last week. This email covers the following:
- A summary of what was covered in the meeting
- Ideas and developments that have emerged since then
- The names of those who have volunteered to be coordinating committee for this city-wide refugee support network
- Next steps for the coordinating committee
Government-sponsored refugees Khaled and Maura, and privately-sponsored refugees, Samira and Hani, spoke about the circumstances of their departure from Syria, their experience to date in Canada, and the most pressing needs for their settlement in Canada. Hassan Wafai interpreted and moderated the session. All four spoke most poignantly about their concerns and fears for family members left behind, and their desires to have them sponsored. They also spoke about the needs for inexpensive housing, ESL, employment, schooling for children, health and dental care, as well as fot opportunities to explore Victoria. Most notably, Khaled and Maura spoke of the struggle they were experiencing in finding affordable housing, and of the administrative barriers to securing that housing as newly arrived residents. They also noted that the resources afforded to them by the government are clearly not enough to cover even basic expenses.
Moustaffa Jammal spoke both about the efforts of the Mosque to support the resettlement effort, as well as of the range of activities that the Mosque offers. He noted that Samara Graves, a member of the mosque, issues a monthly newsletter filled with news of upcoming activities including a parent and tot ESL playgroup, Islamic girl guides, and more.
Alvaro Moreno of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Society Centre spoke about the coordination role that VIRCS is playing on the island. Its focus is to work with settlement organizations at a strategic level on critical issues including housing and employment. VIRCS also has a wrap-around program for vulnerable populations. He noted that 80 percent of the refugees arriving appear to fit the criteria, and thus would be eligible to be placed in this program, which is aimed at supporting them in their search for work, healthcare, housing and more. VIRCS also offers activities like ESL classes, playgroups, legal clinics, and wellness counselling. Any of the government or privately sponsored refugees can attend.
Mitch Hammond introduced us to http://www.refugeesforvi.wordpress.com, an excellent website and exchange platform that has been set up to support the settlement effort. It lists events, resources, discussion boards, a trading post where people can post goods they need, or would like to donate to refugee families. It also has a confidential email list-serve. If you’d like to be notified of events coming up, visit the site to put yourself on the list. The group also heard that a warehouse has been established to collect and distribute goods to government-assisted refugees. People wanting further information are to contact the website.
Recent Developments and Emerging Ideas
- Adopt-a-Family support for GARs (Government-Assisted Refugees). We have learned that the Tides Foundation in Ontario has set up a robust adopt-a-family support system whereby members of Syrian newcomers are paired with members of local sponsorship groups (generally those who have not yet received a privately sponsored refugee) for help with settlement, and friendship. They are then responsible for guiding them through the settlement process, including the search for housing, placing children in schools, finding a doctor, and more. While the ICA in Victoria is the settlement agency responsible for settling refugees, it has not established a program that compares to this one. Meeting attendees clearly embraced this model, and two Victoria-based sponsorship groups have since allied themselves with two GAR families, and have agreed to support them in their settlement effort. You can learn more about how Tides does it here: http://www.welcomeproject.ca.
- Several community members have come forward to recommend that a fund be set up to support the GARs with basic expenses such as the internet and communications and dental care
- Several attendees noted that it would be useful to have a monthly session that brings together community members and recently arrived refugees to continue to hear directly about the needs of the refugees, and to explore together with them how best to meet their needs. They recommended that the next such gathering take place in Langford
- Someone has suggested that monthly bilingual newsletter be created that can be circulated directly to sponsorship groups (in English) and the refugees themselves (in Arabic), and that it can contain the various events, camps, job notices, etc., that they can pursue. Perhaps this information can be posted and sent through the http://www.refugeesforviwebsite.wordpress.com website noted above.
Those who have volunteered to sit on the coordinating committee of our new Victoria Refugee Support Network (for lack of a better name!) are: Judy Loukras, Jo Ann Lawson, Karen Platt, Colette Baty, Rachel Bovey, Maureen Bovey, Ricki Buckwold, Yushy Wallace, Peter Fairley, Robin Pike and Brian Rendell. That’s a large group! I’m not on that group, so if you feel you want to be on it, please email Judy Loukras.
Next Steps for the Coordinating Committee:
- Determine a date for the first meeting of the coordinating group
- Develop the terms of reference for the group
- Determine how to communicate with the larger group (should the email list be expanded? how to protect the list? how to ensure coherence with the list-serve on the refugee site noted above)
- Determine how to formalize the Adopt-a-Family program noted above – what steps need to be taken? How to collaborate with the ICA and VIRCS
- Discuss how to carry forward the ideas noted above including establishing the support fund, another gathering with refugees this time in Langford, and the monthly newsletter
- Next meeting with refugees