A website in Syria has been telling people that Nelson is looking for refugees.
This has resulted in the Nelson Friends of Refugees receiving 5,000 messages since Friday, some in English and some in Arabic, on their website and Facebook page. The City of Nelson has received several hundred as well, and also a lot of phone calls, all from people pleading for asylum.
The city’s Facebook page received 250 likes, all from people in the Middle East, according to communications person Ginger Lester.
“Every 30 seconds a new message arrives,” Friends of Refugees’ Stephanie Myers told the Star on Monday.
How did this happen? Myers has pieced together the cyber trail.
Bill Moore and Judith Fearing of the refugee group were interviewed by Public Radio International recently. The radio network, based in the US, was intrigued by the fact a town in Canada was looking for a Syrian refugee family and had housing and support set up, but were being thwarted by bureaucracy and delays at the federal government level. So the group decided to announce that they didn’t want to limit themselves to Syrians.
The PRI story was picked up by both the BBC and USA Today.
The USA Today story begins with the obligatory references to marijuana and draft dodgers in Nelson, then goes on to explain the Friends of Refugees’ problem, with an undercurrent of amazement that a national government, and a small city, would actually seek out refugees.
The story caught the attention of Sham Times, a Syrian news site, which wrote a story about how Nelson wants Syrian refugees. Myers had a Saudi Arabian friend translate it, and found that it describes Nelson as a pleasant, peaceful mountain town that welcomes Syrians.
Myers contacted the site, explained the problem, and the article was taken down late Monday. She also put an explanation on the Friends of Refugees Facebook page.
As a result, the phone calls and messages have slowed but not stopped.
Myers has been replying to many of the messages. See one of her conversations at left.
“I get some responses that are so amazingly nice. And some are sending me pictures of their UN High Commission refugee cards, like these people are legit. What is to be learned from this is that there are a lot of very desperate people.”