Different faith groups team up up to bring Syrian refugees to Sarnia

Cathy Dobson

A group of Syrian refugees could arrive in Sarnia within four months, thanks to a collaboration of two faith groups.

The Sarnia Muslim Association and the Unitarian Fellowship of Sarnia and Port Huron are pooling their resources to sponsor up to five Syrian refugees, likely a family from a camp in Lebanon or Turkey.

As devastation rages in their homeland almost four million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, and half of the nation’s people have been displaced from their homes since the civil war erupted five years ago.

Locally, a meeting was hosted in October by the Sarnia Lambton Economic Partnership (SLEP) to urge community groups to respond to the humanitarian disaster.

Members from the Muslim Association and the Unitarian Fellowship were at that meeting and decided to work together to sponsor a family, said Ann Steadman, president of the Unitarian Fellowship.

“I think things could go very quickly because the new Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, John McCallum, made it clear the Liberals will try to live up to their commitment to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada by the end of this year,” she said.

The goal is to bring over a family with children, said Aruba Mahmud, the Muslim Association’s outreach and education secretary.

“It seemed like a good fit and (the Fellowship) was very enthusiastic. We thought, why not? We’re both working toward this goal.

“In Sarnia, it’s such a small community and it’s nice to come together with other faiths and just show people that we can all work together.”

The Unitarians and Muslim Association are also working with the Mennonite Central Community in Kitchener, which has a sponsorship agreement with the federal government.

That will give the local groups access to government funding to help cover costs in the first year of sponsorship.

Steadman said she believes about $30,000 is required to bring a family to Sarnia. If government approval is granted, the local groups will need to raise about $18,000 with the balance coming from Ottawa.

“If we go this route, these families have already been vetted and are travel-ready,” Steadman said. “They are also the most vulnerable and perhaps the more traumatized with greater medical needs.”

Sub-committees have already been struck to help with everything from housing to healthcare, and job training to social integration.

“It’s just remarkable that a family associated with the mosque has offered accommodation already,” said Steadman.

Each member of the two groups is being asked to pledge assistance. The first community fundraiser, an international food bazaar, is planned for Nov. 22.

“We’ve had a lot of fundraising dinners in the past and the community has always been very generous,” Mahmud said.

Steadman said she believes the community feels deeply about the refugee crisis and wants to help.

“Depending on how this goes, our effort could be ongoing,” she said.

SLEP representatives said they understand a number of other local church groups are hoping to sponsor refugees as well.

For more information, call Aruba at 519-384-1620

IF YOU GO:

WHAT: An international Food Bazaar and gift sale. Henna tattoos available.

WHERE:  The Mosque at 1609 London Line, just east of Global Donuts.

WHEN:  Sunday, Nov. 22 from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Ticket prices to be announced.