Three groups will bring refugees to Nelson

"The response has been incredible from the community,”

From left: Madelyn McKay of the Nelson Refugee Coalition; Judith Fearing of of the Nelson Friends of Refugees; Barry Nelson and Gerry Sobie of the Cathedral Refugee Committee.

A group has recently brought two refugees to Nelson, and two other groups are gearing up to do the same.

The Nelson Refugee Coalition is currently supporting two women from East Africa who have been here for several months. The coalition, affiliated with the Nelson United Church, has brought several refugee families to Nelson over the past two decades.

The newcomer groups are the Nelson Friends of Refugees, affiliated with the Anglican Church, and the Kootenay Refugee Committee affiliated with the Catholic Church.

Bill Moore of the Friends of Refugees says Nelson can easily support three groups.

“Three grassroots initiatives have sprung up,” he told the Star. “Each has access to a different network of people, and at the same time there are concrete ways we can help each other.”

Moore said the public response so far has been “very strong. We are finding that fundraising is a piece of cake. People express strong enthusiasm and interest.”

The group started in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

“We are focused on Syria at this point,” said Moore. “But it is tricky because there are 30 million refugees [worldwide] and not all are Syrian, but we got strong public support because Syria is front of vision for so many people.”

Moore’s group has already secured a rental house with room for a family of six.

Barry Nelson of the Cathedral Refugee Committee, affiliated with the Catholic Church, says the group has secured a one-month home-stay for the family and are now looking for more permanent accommodation. He wants to hear from anyone who can provide rental housing and said the level of support has impressed him.

“We were overwhelmed by the support, not just from church community but so many people outside it,” Nelson said. “The interfaith discussion group that we had about the Pope’s encyclical on the environment in November brought together people from all faiths and it was a marvellous opportunity for discussion and openness. We averaged 65 people per meeting, and brought a closeness among some of the people who felt the need to work in common on social justice issues.”

The Nelson Refugee Coalition has, over the past 25 years, brought people from Guatemala, eastern Europe, Togo, Colombia, and Burma. Currently they are hosting two women from East Africa and working on bringing their children, still in refugee camps there, to Nelson as well.

The coalition’s Madelyn McKay says Nelson can easily support three groups, because as soon a refugee family arrives, it takes all of the group’s energy to find housing, furniture and clothing, as well as to arrange English lessons and help them learn to use practical things such as kitchen appliances and utensils and how to shop. Often there are serious medical and dental needs, and sometimes social lessons to be taught including Canadian society’s expectations regarding child rearing.

To do all that and also try to get the women’s children here from East Africa will take all her group’s energy, so McKay is glad there are two other groups.

The agreement between sponsorship groups and the immigration ministry stipulates the local group will support the refugees for one year, and the group is required to show the government a budget and a plan in advance.

“Nelson can support this because the response has been incredible from the community,” McKay said. “What we can do in Nelson is create safety and trauma healing, and the refugees can add to the cosmopolitan nature of the town.”

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