By Jenn Watt
There is a movement in this county, as there is across the country, to bring refugees here.
Well before Justin Trudeau pledged that his government would ensure 25,000 Syrians came to Canada by the end of 2015, a group of Haliburton County residents had started planning.
They weren’t thinking about Syrians specifically; they were just interested in providing asylum for an individual or family from amongst some 60 million displaced people around the world.
Serendipitously that effort coincided with wave of migrants trekking across Europe, looking for a safe place to call home.
I joined in with this local group in October when Ian McBride, executive director of AURA (Anglican United Refugee Alliance) came to speak at St. George’s Anglican Church in October, just as Europe was grappling with what to do with a sudden influx of displaced people.
McBride has been helping refugees for decades and told the group about the careful, intensive process to bring someone to Haliburton County. We would need to raise about half of the living expenses necessary and the government would provide the rest, he said. Refugees coming here would be screened at camps abroad by the United Nations, the Canadian government, CSIS, customs and by AURA before being placed in this community, he said.
There were some concerns about safety and whether the refugee system would be a conduit for troublemakers to enter Canada. McBride put minds at ease quickly. The refugee system is slow, complicated and quite unpleasant for those moving through it, he said. Why would someone who could board a plane to Canada choose to sit in a refugee camp for two years hoping not to be discovered by waves of background checks and vetting?
By mid-November Haliburton’s committee – composed of a variety of community members religious and secular – was up and running and has been receiving steady support from the community through messages, volunteers and donations. We will need about $30,000 to ensure all expenses are covered.
While much is being made of the Syrian refugee target, Haliburton will not necessarily bring a Syrian here, but that matters very little. Whether Syrian, Congolese, Nigerian or Yemeni, all people deserve the opportunity to live in a safe place. And while that place should be their country of origin, not all are so fortunate as we in Canada to be born in a country that provides relative security to its people.
Haliburton has much to offer – we have the infrastructure to support newcomers and a generous population eager to give.
With luck, in 2016 we will be able to share both with a refugee family.