The process of being forced to leave your home country and becoming a refugee is not easy. Many of the refugees come from war-torn countries where surviving long enough to escape is a feat in itself.
So the chance for two families of refugees to come to a town like Rossland would be an amazing thing, and that’s exactly what Rossland’s West Kootenay Friends of Refugees aims to accomplish in the next year or two by sponsoring two Burmese families.
Kate Mahoney, who has worked in for refugee centres in other parts of the world said it’s a pretty complex process of interviewing to find the families and individuals that are eligible for resettlement.
The countries that primarily accept refugees for resettlement are Canada, the U.S., Australia and most of Western Europe.
Mahoney said in terms of the number of individuals these places accept, it is very few.
“There are a lot more people who have been clearly determined for resettlement than there are places,” she said. “Those countries’ willingness to accept depends on governments sponsoring refugees.”
She said there are often quotas, such as a certain number of people from places such as Burma or Sudan. Where the public sponsorship hits its limitations, there is private sponsorship, which is what the group is now in the fundraising mode for.
Mahoney explained that the process for resettlement depends on the quota system.
There is a very lengthy interview process to determine who is appropriate for resettlement, medical checks, background checks, security checks.
Mahoney said that over the past year she has done interviews with about 300 refugees children and they’ve all talked about the desire to develop their talents.
“What they wanted more than anything was to develop themselves,” she said. “Sometimes we get the idea that refugees come and they drain the system, but if you look at the list of famous refugees and what they have brought to the country…”
She cited refugees like Madeleine Albright, Albert Einstein and K’naan.
“By sponsoring refugees here in Rossland, we can take that huge international issue and bring it home and look at the difference we can make in a few families’ lives,” she said.
The group is a constituent group of East Kootenay Friends of Burma, who has a federal agreement and so is accredited with the government.
Kathy Moore, who is also a member of the group, said that one of the best things that the community can do is be welcoming.
“The government is putting on a program called Welcoming Communities,” she said.
“The best way for refugees to immigrate is if the community is welcoming so there’s a lot of things people can do to make them feel welcome.”
Moore said Rossland will need to support the families in many ways, though right now the group will be responsible for supporting the seven members of the two families for the first year they are here.
“We are bringing seven people to the town and we want to be able to support them comfortably,” she said.
Moore said that though there has been talk lately of conditions being improved in Burma, it’s likely more about the country trying to get international sanctions lifted.
“Actually in the last year there have been more human rights violations against the ethnic minorities than there had been before,” she said. “So it seems they might be upping the ethnic cleansing effort.”
The group plans to do all sorts of fund raising activities.
“We have a quilt being raffled off and the draw is in August,” she said. The quilt was donated by a Doukhobor woman in Castlegar.
Rachael Roussin, another menber of the group, said that in the next year or so they hope to raise $20,000 to cover the cost of living for the seven people.
She said that though the cost of living in Rossland is a lot higher than living in Burma, but the expectations of the refugees on the cost of living is much lower than ours.
The planning is now in two parts. The first part is to fundraise the $20,000. The second part, which the group estimates will happen in about 18-20 months, when the refugees arrive, is helping them get settled in, in terms of housing, clothing, shopping and taking them to dentist appointments.
“We really want to give people the opportunity to get involved,” Roussin said.
“We are open to ideas for fundraisers.”
She said that anyone interested in becoming involved can find more info on the groups new website: www.friendsofrefugees.ca
“If you know people who are interested let us know, join the group or join the email list for West Kootenay Friends of Refugees.”