Cranbrook group to discuss refugee process

Cranbrook Hub for Refugees holds its first public meeting Wednesday, Jan. 6

  • Jan. 4, 2016 7:00 p.m.

For the Townsman

Donations to the Cranbrook Hub for Refugees (CHR) now total almost $17,000 as the organization prepares to have its first public meeting 7 p.m. Wednesday Jan. 6 at Christ Church Anglican Hall at 46 13th Ave. S. near the corner of 2nd St. S. and 13th Ave. S.

The first meeting of 2016 will be mainly devoted to giving the public a chance to meet the CHR committee and to find out what they can do to support a refugee family expected to arrive in Cranbrook by spring,  says CHR Co-chair Bonnie Spence-Vinge.

“Even though we’ve raised enough money to be certified as a refugee sponsor by the federal government, we’ll need more money and volunteers to prepare for the refugees arrival and to support them for a year after they get here,” she says.

Spence-Vinge says volunteers are needed for a number of tasks and jobs that need to be done to support the refugees who will be starting new lives far from their war-torn homes.

Some legal work will have to be done before they arrive as well as finding them accommodation, furniture, clothing and other items of basic support. After they get settled, more volunteers will be needed to help the new family adjust to the Canadian life style by providing ESL training, enrolling children in school,  job training, shopping and food preparation, trauma counselling, social support, recreational activities and a host of other means of support, says Spence-Vinge.

“Most of all, we just want to make them feel welcome and let them know that we will always be there to support them in their new country,” she says.

Refugees coming to Cranbrook may be Syrian or from another country where people are fleeing persecution and have been defined as refugees by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The 6,000 or so Syrian refugees that have made it to Canada so far are mainly privately sponsored by families and friends or organizations such as Oxfam and Friends of Burma that have been helping refugees for years, says Gerry Warner, CHR’s other co-chair.

“We are bringing them in on the UN’s BVOR (Blended Visa Office-Referred Program) where we partner with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, (IRCC) to bring them over,” Warner says.

“The big advantage of the BVOR program is that the federal government pays half the cost of the program, including health care costs for the refugees,” Warner says. But the federal government only subsidizes the program at social assistance rates, which is why more money is needed as well as volunteers, he says.

“That’s why we’re looking to the public for more support and will explain the program in detail to them at the Jan. 6 meeting,” Warner says.