Members of the Westshore Refugee Sponsorship Group

Members of the Westshore Refugee Sponsorship Group

Preparing to receive ‘their’ family

Refugee sponsorship group moves closer to welcoming Syrians

Members of the Westshore Refugee Sponsorship Group have reached a major milestone in their quest to help a Syrian family build a safe new home on the West Shore.

While the West Shore was at least a temporary home to a number of Syrian refugee families that were once sheltered at the Four Points by Sheraton Victoria Gateway in Langford, those families were brought to Canada through government sponsorship.

There are some groups on the West Shore, such as the WRSG, which are working to bring families to Canada through the Privately Sponsored Refugees Program, a process that can take years to complete.

“We’re now matched with a family,” said Linda Van Sickle, who serves as the group’s secretary, among other roles.

The family of five has been living in Lebanon since 2012, having fled the unfolding war in Syria. As  the West Shore group’s team lead Susan Davis said, they lived in fear for their lives. It was an “unliveable situation for a family with children,” she added.

But the family already has a connection to Victoria. The father’s brother was living in Canada when the war broke out. Since that time, more extended members of this family have become scattered across the globe; some finding their way to Canada, others not being as lucky.

“His dream – his passion – is to bring his whole family to Canada,” Van Sickle said of the father. “To him, this is just one part of a bigger story.”

Getting “their” family to Canada, as the West Shore church-based group affectionately refers to them, is no easy task. Since focusing their efforts in January, the group has raised more than half of the funds, and collected most of the items required to take care of a family for one year. Once they reached the financial halfway point, the group was matched with their family.

Since then they have been carefully pouring over the paperwork and making sure every T is crossed and I is dotted. Once completed the forms are sent to Winnipeg to be processed, which is expected to take six to eight weeks. From there the documents are forwarded to Lebanon, where another eight months of processing time is expected. This will give the group enough time to raise the rest of the funds and prepare for the family’s arrival.

“We’re looking at late summer [2017] … before the end of the year at the latest,” Davis said.

“It’s been quite a process,” Van Sickle added. So much happened so quickly with government-sponsored refugees, she said, that private sponsorships like theirs are sometimes forgotten and often it is a struggle to raise funds. “We’ve had to adapt along the way, but we’ve very excited to be matched with a family at this point.”

Continuing on with their fundraising, the group is hosting A Night of Music this Saturday (Oct. 22).

The event will take place at the Church of the Advent, 510 Mount View Ave. at 7 p.m. and will feature a lineup of talented local musicians including a barbershop quartet, organist, pianists, violinists and many more. International students from Pearson College will also be showcasing some of their musical talents.

“It should be a great evening, we’re hoping to fill the place,” Davis said, adding it’s a great opportunity for people to become “more aware of what’s going in our world.”

Van Sickle added the venue has great acoustics that will make the performances even more enjoyable.

During a break in the musical portion of the evening a local Syrian man will speak of his experience getting to Canada and the ongoing saga for his family back in Syria. “The brother of our Syrian family will also speak,” Van Sickle noted.

Tickets for A Night of Music are $15 and can purchased in advance at the Church of the Advent office or by emailing bill@wrsg.ca. If tickets are still available they can also be purchased at the door the night of the performance.

The group is still accepting monetary donations and can provide a tax receipt for donors. Contributions can be made online at wrsg.ca or by cheque made payable to the Church of the Advent with WRSG noted in the memo line.

katie@goldstreamgazette.com