How New West is preparing to welcome refugees

Yesterday I went to a public meeting hosted by New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy and MP Peter Julian in the lovely downstairs space of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union on E. Columbia Street.

Being overwhelmed with enquiries about how to help, Darcy and Julian realized holding a public meeting might make sense and they cobbled that together in less than a week.

They were expecting maybe 50 people to show up and the room was packed, no more chairs left, at a crowd of I’m guessing about 250.

It was good to learn of the facts presented by Andrea Canales, Manager of Settlement Services for Immigrant Services Society of BC.

Here’s what I learned:

  • There are 52 privately sponsored refugees who have been approved and are arriving in New West by December 31, 2015.
  • Privately sponsored refugees are sponsored by family members or groups of at least five people who are agreeing to be responsible for them and their welfare. Find out more here.
  • There are two types of refugees: There are privately sponsored refugees and there are government assisted refugees or GARS.
  • By the end of February 2016, in total, 25,000 privately sponsored and government assisted refugees, will be here in Canada.
  • New Westminster will receive about 200-250 refugees in total. Coquitlam, New West and Vancouver each will receive 40% of refugees coming to BC. Surrey will receive 25%.
  • Twenty-five percent of the refugees will be school-aged children and youth.
  • I didn’t learn this, I already knew it, but it was apparent to me that at least one person on city council who should know it, didn’t. Refugees and immigrants are not the same classification. Immigrants have a choice as to whether they want to move here and can be accepted. Refugees have been designated that way because their lives are endangered and they do not have a choice about leaving their countries. Do not confuse refugees with immigrants. Refugees do not designate themselves that way. The UNHCR or UN Refugee Agency (working with Canada) designates people as refugees based on criteria. Do not speak of refugees and immigrants as if they are the same designation. They are not.
  • In terms of funding, a single refugee (one person) would receive $734 a month and that includes money to pay for housing.
  • A family of four would receive $1,300 a month.
  • These amounts are the reason why it is imperative that people who have housing or extra space that is decent and livable, offer it for refugees in cities where affordable housing, as we know, is at crisis levels.
  • Refugees will be arriving every two weeks and typically they arrive at a place called Welcome house in Downtown Vancouver. They are driven by taxi from the airport to Welcome house. Once there they meet with Refugee Assistance Program Counsellors and they are housed for two weeks. They are inundated with information on services and supports and it is important to find them housing within two weeks because after that, new refugees will begin to arrive and the upstairs space will need to be turned around every two weeks.
  • At some point donations of furniture will be important. Those needs have yet to be established but once they are, the furniture will be located in a specific place. At this point, the Gurdwara temple in Queensborough is investigating the possibility of storage space for New Westminster based refugees.
  • Normally when refugees are flown to Canada, they are expected to repay what is called a transportation loan. The average repayment is about $9,000. According to Ms. Canales, ISS Manager of Settlement, the default has typically been about 2%. These refugees will not have to pay this transportation loan. The federal government has made that decision.
  • The refugees will receive basic medical insurance through the federal government called the Interim Federal Health Plan.
  • The Greater Vancouver Foodbank Society operates the New West Food Bank as well so any donations made to them could be specified to go to New West.
  • There is also a Muslim Food Bank that exists to provide culturally specific and appropriate food.
  • The New West Chamber of Commerce is working to create a welcoming space and to educate other employers because new refugees eventually do become employed and even start up small businesses.
  • It takes an entire community to support and welcome refugees including the School District, the New West Public Library, Lower Mainland Purpose Society, local faith based groups and churches, the New Westminster Islamic Society and many more. I did not know that there is an Islamic newspaper in New West.
  • If you would like to donate in New West make your cheque payable to Lower Mainland Purpose Society (LIP Refugee Fund) at 40 Begbie Street, New West, V3M 3L9.
  • If you want to get involved with ISS to provide money, housing, services, ESL, Counselling, products and services, you can visit their website at crisis@iss.bc.org or call 1-844-447-9742.
  • If you want to contact the school district in New Westminster to ask about volunteering, the person to contact is Belinda Scott.
  • The New Westminster offices of Immigrant Services Society are located on the second floor of Royal City Centre Mall.
  • When we speak of refugees, the current Syrian refugee crisis is just one part of an ongoing process in which refugees from all over the world are continuing to arrive from other countries as they have been prior to this crisis.

In search of a personal peace

dove

In the wake of the terror that has struck at Paris, but will strike elsewhere in an equally senseless manner, I’ve been really struggling with how to go about my life while being inundated by news of horrific realities?

I can’t stop thinking of fearful innocent children and babies, their heartbroken mothers and fathers, and the desperate, confused, sick and elderly all trying to survive in what is amounting to hell on earth.

I can’t stop seeing that photo of a little boy’s body, like a doll’s, prostrate on a beach. I can’t escape the photos in social media and on TV of life rafts bulging with desperate humans, or soldiers in Belgium with automatic weapons who must be wondering about every single person walking towards them and whether they are who they seem.

I was in a shopping mall the other day and I saw a Muslim woman pushing her child in a stroller. I felt sad thinking about what it might feel like to be her. I wondered if she was fearful just to go shopping knowing that even though it’s Canada, there is that ignorant plague who haven’t bothered to educate themselves, and never have. Their reactions always predictable when confronted by any type of difference regardless of its manifestation, whether indigenous, homeless, or immigrant.  We all know them.

All of this going on and yet I still have clean sheets. I wash my dishes. I have the luxury of safety in my living room.  I eat chocolate. I watch TV. I go about my small little life and feel comforted by familiarity. I enjoy some of the nice things that I have purchased – and grown attached to –  on vacations in foreign places. So many people have had that small luxury of attachment ripped from their reality. Or they never experienced it in the first place.

So when I hear Canadians call into radio shows and say, “But we’re just not ready to accept 25,000 refugees,” I want to laugh at them and their wariness in a world that is begging for heroes. Who said anything about being ready? Just like those fleeing, ready or not has become the new reality. Our risk, however, is so much less than the risk refugees lived with ever time they left their homes, when they had homes, before their homes were blown to bits.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that this is just about the newly power hungry. Don’t let recent events lull you into ignoring the West’s role in this, the actions of Superpowers, and who armed who and which side is backing the others and learning a least a little bit about what contributed to how we ended up here in this mess.

If not now, then when? If you’re not willing to have your small little life disturbed just a little, for the sake of others in desperate life and death need, then when? Stop living as if he or she, they, those foreigners, have nothing to do with you because they’re there and you’re here. If you live in Canada, you won the lifestyle lottery through no effort of your own.

What strikes me overwhelmingly in the frenzied din of all those media producers beating every Think Tank for commentators is all the new terminology. There’s that word: caliphate. Whenever I hear that word, I am offended. It’s as if I’ve entered some medieval video game that I never wanted to play in the first place. And then at complete odds with that ideology, we have a term that I just heard today in a different context – pathological hopefulness – which I think is a perfect fit for all those naive enough to think that, in this instance, prayer is going to make a difference.

I don’t want this new ugly knowledge as the warlord of my consciousness. It’s like a strain of bacteria that has mutated and is well on its way to becoming a Super bug.

Suicide belts and caliphates and all that other ridiculous boy toy, war game craziness feels like some James Bond film in which the virtual reality has managed to leap from the screen.

Given all this, I find myself wondering how to integrate what is going on in the world with the peace that is my own reality, the peace I have only ever desired be available to every soul on the planet.

So how are you feeling these days? Do you find yourself asking similar questions? What kind of touchstones are you finding any solace in? I’d really like to know.