Local groups continue to bring refugee families to Victoria

It's been nearly a year since the tiny body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach.

It’s been nearly a year since the tiny body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach.

The toddler’s family had fled the northern Syrian town of Kobani, which was beseiged by Isis militants, and was on one of two rafts with 20 people heading for the Greek island of Kos when disaster struck.

Kurdi’s five-year-old brother and mother also drowned when their boat capsized. The image of Kurdi’s lifeless body lying on shore went viral, forcing the world to acknowledge the severity of the Syrian refugee crisis.

The Canadian government has since brought 25,000 Syrian refugees to various communities across the country, including Victoria. But many refugees are still in the process of coming to Canada through private sponsorship groups like the dozen or so citizens who make up the Esquimalt Refugee Family Sponsorship Group.

Working under the guidance of the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA), the group banded together last December to raise money and sponsor a Syrian family —  a father, 36, his wife, 28 and their two-year-old son. The father’s expertise is digital software programming, industrial mechanics, and alternative energy. The wife is a cook.

Everything is now in the hands of government officials as the group anxiously waits for updates on the family’s whereabouts in Turkey and when they might arrive to their new Canadian home.

“Since the coup in Turkey, we really haven’t heard any updates so we’re assuming that they are still there and waiting and ready to come…It makes me feel very nervous and anxious,” said Jenny Bourne, one of the members of the group, noting kidnapping in Turkey has turned into a big problem.

“I know they are quite transient, they are staying with a friend, but it’s not a permanent place so we’re very happy to hear they were off the street. The mother and child are basically not going out right now because it’s too dangerous and the husband is working (as an electrician) quite a bit, but it’s under the table. They’re living off the kindness of their friends.”

So far the Esquimalt sponsorship group has everything they need for the family’s arrival, but is still short about $6,000 of reaching the $45,000 needed to support the family for one year. Housing is also a concern.

The problem, said Bourne, is that the group can’t secure a home for the family until they have a date for their arrival, which could be as soon as six days to as long as six months.

In the meantime, the sponsorship group will continue to do everything they can to prepare for the family’s arrival, along with making residents aware that the Syrian refugee crisis is far from over.

“People say there are so many people in our own community that we should be helping, which we should and we do with a lot of local groups. But we’re also global community members and the people that we’re reaching out to try to help now, they don’t have any other options,” said Bourne, who works as an ESL instructor, helping refugees from all over the world.

“It makes me appreciate everything I have here and everything as a Canadian.”

In an effort to reach its fundraising goal, the sponsorship group has been gathering donations of gently used items for a community jumble sale at Wheeley Hall (on the corner of Lyall and Constance streets) on Saturday, Aug. 27.

Donations such as household goods, small furniture, tools, toys, electronics and back-to-school items can be brought to the Esquimalt Farmers Market on Thursday evenings (4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.) or by emailing burbidge.linda@gmail.com or calling 250-370-0789.

For more information visit the Esquimalt Refugee Family Facebook page.