The members of the Esquimalt Refugee Family group. Back row

Syrian refugees slowly trickling into Victoria

The Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria expects another 60 to 70 Syrian refugee families will arrive through private sponsorship.

The father is 36 years old, his wife is 28 and they have a two-year old son. Their English is limited, with the father knowing a few phrases, but his wife doesn’t speak any at all. His expertise is digital software programming, industrial mechanics, alternative energy and the wife is a cook.

Those are about all the details the 12 citizens with the Esquimalt Refugee Family Sponsorship Group know about the Syrian family they are trying to bring overseas from Turkey. Philippa Catling is anxious for them arrive, but doesn’t know when that will happen.

“We have guarded enthusiasm because we have no idea how long it could take. It could take a year, it could take six weeks, we just don’t know whether some snags are going to crop up,” said Catling, noting the family is still trying to get all the necessary papers together.

“They are in a really perilous situation. The less time they cope with those conditions (in Turkey,) the better.”

The Esquimalt Refugee Family Sponsorship Group is among 35 constituency groups in the capital region that are working under the guidance of the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA) to sponsor Syrian refugees.

So far, 28 people (five families and a single person) have arrived in the capital region. The first family came in mid-December.

ICA Executive Director Jean McRae expects another 60 to 70 families will arrive through private sponsorship, but it’s not clear when exactly that will happen. It’s also still not known whether Victoria will receive any government assisted refugees, but if that does happen, McRae estimates there could be as many as 150 to 200 people or 40 families in the city.

As for those who’ve already arrived, McRae said it’s still early but so far they seem to be settling into their new Canadian life.

They are still in the process of having a needs assessment done with settlement providers and children are getting connected with schools.

Most have had their English levels assessed and are on a wait list to get into class. The ICA is currently trying to get funding for more English classes to help with the wait list.

“Most of them, their English is quite low. People are coming in with lower language levels than originally anticipated,” said McRae, who’s also been working with landlords to find suitable housing for those who have yet to arrive.

“As we get more people coming I think the housing situation will be challenging and getting into a home is one of the key pieces.”

Moved by the plight of refugees fleeing the war in Syria, Catling started an onling fundraising campaign last fall to raise money and sponsor a family. Much to her surprise, she managed to raise about $10,000, but soon realized she couldn’t continue alone.

So Catling banded together with two other people that were members of the Esquimalt United Church. During an information session held at the church in December, the ICA outlined the process involved for privately sponsoring a refugee family. More than 80 people attended, thus beginning the Esquimalt Refugee Family Sponsorship group.

One of the interesting things about the group, noted Catling, is they come from all backgrounds. Some attend the United Church, some the Jamat Khana Ismaeli mosque while others are simply members of the community with a wide variety of talents. The group has also been endorsed by Esquimalt council.

“What’s pleased me hugely is that it’s remained very firmly community based. It’s not the United Church, it’s not the Catholics, it’s not the Muslims, it’s a group from the community,” said Catling. “For me, it’s a bit of a relief because all of a sudden I’m not doing it all by myself.”

The father of the family the group is sponsoring has a sister already living in Victoria. Another branch of the same family are being sponsored by another constituent group in the city.

The Esquimalt group needs between $45,000 to $60,000 to support their family for one year. So far they’ve raised about $30,000. Visit esquimaltrefugeefamily.ca for information.