Submitted on behalf of the Rideau Bridge to Canada Executive
Several local communities have successfully sponsored Syrian refugee families to move to Canada over the past few years. For example, Merrickville-based Rideau Bridge to Canada (RBC) has sponsored two families, Kemptville-based Refugees in North Grenville (RING) has supported two families, Perth-based Community Alliance for Refugee Settlement (CARR) has sponsored three families and several Brockville groups have sponsored about twelve Syrian families. Although some of these sponsorships were partly funded by government, most have been funded privately. The sponsorship experience has been a rewarding one, both for the immigrating families, but also gratifying for the sponsors and the communities to which they moved, and has resulted in benefits for Canada. For the families, escaping war-torn Syria to a peaceful and supportive community is obviously a great blessing. The children do wonderfully well in school. Although the parents may struggle for a while with language, separation from extended family, and a change in culture, they soon find their feet and begin to make a valuable contribution to the Canadian economy. The sponsoring groups have been gratified by the wealth of community support, expressed in many ways.
Now we are faced with another group of refugees escaping from the chaos of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Rideau Bridge to Canada is committing to support a family of five. Kara (not her real name because the Taliban may persecute her relatives) is a journalist who worked for a radio station in Maimana that was funded by Canada. As a female journalist, particularly one associated with a country that provided military support to the previous Afghan government, she is in a particularly vulnerable situation. The personal link with Kara has come through Wendy—an RBC exec member—and a friend of Wendy named Leslie whose home is in B.C. Leslie has known Kara for many years: both she and Wendy worked on Canadian-sponsored projects in Afghanistan. Wendy and Leslie have been in constant touch with Kara since the Taliban takeover.
Kara, her mother, two children and an unmarried younger sister, were able to escape to Greece in late October. They were supported with planning by Leslie who has many useful contacts and by a British woman (lawyer, senior academic and member of the House of Lords) who raised funds and used her influence to help female Afghan judges and journalists (and their families) escape the Taliban.
Kara and family travelled overland from Kabul to a city in the north of Afghanistan, then, after several nerve-wracking days of waiting, flew to Athens. As you can imagine, this whole process of escaping the country was fraught with danger, and a few simple sentences fail to express the nightmarish escape. To make matters worse, Kara and her close family are distraught because their extended family was unable to travel with them: they are still stuck in Kabul. But the family of five is now safe in Greece and we understand that arrangements have been made for them to stay there for up to a year. They are busy completing the documentation required for immigration as refugees to Canada. At this end, RBC is busy working on all the requirements needed in the sponsorship application process. Realistically, it will be many months, perhaps a year, before the family is able to travel the final leg to Canada.
Rideau Bridge to Canada (RBC) is again being joined by the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Merrickville in this effort and is again using the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada as the official Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH), as required by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in the private sponsorship process.
RBC has been joined by dedicated volunteers in Perth who have revived CARR. They are undertaking to sponsor some of Kara’s extended family, with the possibility that the remaining family members will be helped by a third local sponsorship group.
A public meeting will be held at the Merrickville Community Centre from 6.00 to 8.30 pm on Monday November 22nd to discuss all aspects of this sponsorship. Come and find out more. Volunteers welcome.
Beside all the planning that must go into a successful sponsorship, the most immediate need is to raise money. RBC must raise $50,000 to support the family for their first year in Canada. Please consider making a donation through the RBC web page at www.merrickville-bridge.ca. The funds go through the Ottawa Community Foundation, and donations larger than $20 will automatically generate a charitable receipt for income tax purposes.
The Ceildih Girls, a Merrickville charity that has taken on several very successful fundraising projects in the past, including one for the second Syrian family, will have a booth at Merrickville’s outdoor Christmas Makers market. This will be held on Saturday November 13th 10-4 pm at the Merrickville Fair Grounds located at 446 Main Street West. They will be selling shortbread, fig cookies, hot chocolate, hot apple cider, decorated trees & wreaths to help RBC’s fundraising for the Afghan family.