Twenty-seven Syrian refugees have arrived in Sarnia-Lambton since last fall and as many as 75 more are expected, says a resettlement worker with the YMCA Learning and Career Centre.
“We originally thought 26 would come but now it looks more like 100,” said Roxanne Gilroy-Machado.
The families already here have been privately sponsored by various church groups, as well as a single Iraqi man who arrived in February under similar circumstances.
The first 27 came to Sarnia in the wave of 25,000 Syrian refugees the Liberal government pledged to resettle in Canada by the end of February. That target has been met, and Gilroy-Machado anticipates another 25,000 will be brought to Canada by the end of the year.
Immigration Minister John McCallum says the Liberal government intends to accept between 35,000 and 50,000 this year.
While most Syrian refugees are government sponsored and guaranteed government funding their first year in Canada, local private sponsor groups are raising about $30,000 to support each family coming to Sarnia.
Fundraising in Sarnia and the community’s enthusiasm has snowballed, said Gilroy-Machado.
Church groups working together set up the Lambton Refugee Sponsor Network to co-ordinate the effort, she said. With that kind of organization, there are at least 20 more applications being made to sponsor families of four or more.
The refugees already here are busy learning English and some have taken part-time jobs while they learn the language.
“All the adults except two are coming to the Learning and Career Centre to learn English. All the children are attending school,” Gilroy-Machado said.
The first Syrian family in Sarnia arrived in January and became ambassadors to those who followed, she said.
“It’s amazing they were first because he (the father, Mohammed Al-Khalil) is very comfortable with being in the public eye and welcoming others.
“He’s working part-time at a restaurant so he can maximize his ability to learn English, and he’s going out to the airport to meet families as they arrive.
“He’s already giving back to the community.”
Just three years ago, before war shattered their country, these refugees lived normal lives, going to work, going to school and enjoying a good standard of living in a beautiful country, Gilroy-Machado said.
“It’s important we see them as people, not refugees like those in the news media. These are people who are motivated and hard-working but everything they knew is gone.
“To put it mildly, they’ve experienced trauma and they have a fear of the unknown.
“When I see a smile and hear them enjoying themselves, I know it’s because they feel how welcome they are.
“And I see a lot of smiling faces,” she added. “It’s going well.”