On Thursday, May 9, Mayor Wayne Stetski of the city of Cranbrook met with locals who are passionate about the rights of refugees and presented an official declaration that Cranbrook is proud to protect refugees.The city is the first to take this step.
For about 15 years, the East Kootenay Friends of Burma has been helping people escape persecution in their countries of origin. On Thursday, Shauna Jimenez, an assocation director, praised the way City Hall has responded.
“The Kimberley and Cranbrook mayors were the first in Canada to proclaim that the municipalities each are proud to protect refugees, which is part of the Canadian Council for Refugees’ national campaign,” Jimenez said.
“Wayne was actually, I think, the first Mayor out of everymunicipally to proclaim that.
“The Canadian Council for Refugees is really proud of Wayne, and the East Kootenay Friends of Burma, who have been sponsoring refugees to this community for about 30 years, is also really proud of Wayne,” she said.
Jiminez said it has been an ongoing quest y the communities to try to correct negative connotations that seem to accompany the subject of immigration. Cranbrook, she said, has been a very supportive and nurturing environment for the refugees.
Jimenez said that the Friends of Burma has been sponsoring refugees, getting them out of some perilous situations in their home countries. The Friends have been fighting the stigma that immigrants are somehow unbeneficial to their host communities.
“We’re meant to be people who protect refugees, not people who are afraid of refugees,” Jimenez said.
With this first step, the Mayor is trying to encourage Cranbrook as a safe haven for refugees.
“I want to see Cranbrook become even more multicultural than it already is,” Stetski said.
Students of T.M. Roberts Elementary have been learning of how privileged they are in their communities and the importance of welcoming refugees.
Joy Poch, a T.M. student, helped create the banner that reads “Proud to Protect Refugees” that was used at Thursday’s proclamation.
Adem Salim, from Eritrea, came to the school an told her class about the difficulties people in that country live with on a daily basis.
She also said that her class made the banner to show everyone in their community, and hopefully people outside of Cranbrook as well, the importance of welcoming and showing respect to newcomers.
Barb Ryeburn, a director of the Friends of Burma, has a lot to say about the significance of the declaration that Cranbrook has made.
“We’re thrilled that Cranbrook agreed to make the proclamation that they are a city that is proud to protect refugees,” she said.
Ryeburn, like Jimenez, emphasizes that there shouldn’t be negative connotations about refugees.
“This is their initiative, to encourage communities across Canada to declare that they are proud to protect refugees,” she said. “Part of it is a response to media that is going in the other direction because of fears — about terrorism and all sorts of things.
“The majority of people who come here as refugees, well actually all of them who come as sponsored refugees, are identified as refugees because they are fleeing from where their lives are in danger.”
Ryeburn said that Canada is doing the right thing by offering refugees a place where they can be safe.
There is a core group of about six main volunteer directors who are running the East Kootenay Friends of Burma. This group has been spreading, helping other refugee groups in Creston, Nelson and Calgary. Ryeburn said a chapter will soon be starting in Fernie.
They have sponsored many refugees from different places including Thailand, Eritrea and Columbia.
The Friends of Burma have had an impact the East Kootenay, but in turn, the refugees that come here have made their mark — on not only the city but on the people of Cranbrook. Ryeburn, for one, said that working with the refugees has given her a lot of meaning in her life.
“I am really proud of what refugees bring to Cranbrook,” she said. “Just like what the mayor was saying, they increase the diversity here, they bring us a vision of what the world is like that we can’t imagine.”