LunLun San and Koko Latt were the first family sponsored by the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees. Submitted photo

Rossland refugee group seeks housing for new arrivals

The same-sex couple could arrive in town as soon as mid-September

Rossland’s refugee support group is looking for a place to live for two Caribbean men coming to the community this fall.

“The biggest need we have right now is housing,” says Jan Micklethwaite, the head of West Kootenay Friends of Refugees. “It’s a really challenging time to find accommodation in Rossland, because seasonal workers are arriving, and everyone is competing for the same spaces.”

The two men could arrive in Rossland from Trinidad as soon as mid-September.

While most of us think of Trinidad as an island paradise of beaches and Bellinis, the U.N’s Human Rights Commission has accepted the two men, a same-sex couple, as refugees.

“They are living without status there because it’s not safe to be there,” says Micklethwaite. “It shocks me the UN has designated them as refugees.”

WKFoR is not releasing the men’s full names until they arrive safely in Rossland.

An article on Wikipedia notes that a Trinidad and Tobago high court ruling threw out a law criminalizing homosexuality in 2018, but LGBT+ people cannot be married, adopt, or immigrate to the country, and face other restrictions.

The couple is still in Trinidad, says Micklethwaite, and could be arriving in four to 10 weeks, the window given to them by the government.

WKFoR usually pick families to sponsor, but this year there was none appropriate.

“Our priority is usually for young families to come to Rossland,” she says. “But this time there was only one on the list, with nine kids. And that’s a bit more than our group can handle.”

SEE: After fleeing repression, family reunited in Rossland

WKFoR provides support, both financial and social, to refugees for up to a year. That can include everything from bikes to jobs to language lessons.

Right now, however, Micklethwaite is putting the call out to anyone who might have housing available for the two men for a year.

“The thing we need most is housing. That will be the biggest challenge for Rossland. We’ve done lots of fundraising, so we’re in a fairly good position in terms of finances, and we also recieved a small grant that supports groups like ours,” she says.

“We’re responsible for the first year of support, so we have to have a minimum amount of money based on a chart we get from Immigration Canada. They tell us on how much they think it would cost to sponsor a couple for a year. And we have that amount of money raised.”

These two men are coming to the community with one advantage — they can speak English.

“That is always a huge challenge for our group. When we brought in our last refugeees, they were from Syria. The father learned to speak English quickly, but it still took him a year to get fluent. The wife took a bit longer. But speaking English is a huge asset.”

She says the men — aged 25 and 32 — also need work.

“The older man has been a clinical instructor at the School of Nursing and was an RN for six years previous. He has undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in education and science,” says Micklethwaite. “He’d like to get his Canadian qualifications as soon as possible in order to continue his career.

“His partner has been working as a head teacher for a UNICEF project providing education programming for refugees, asylum seekers and migrant children. He hopes to become a teacher in Canada.”

Micklethwaite is hoping for a warm welcome to the community for the two men, and said she took comfort in recent comments in the Rossland News by an LGBT spokesperson about inclusion in the community.

“I was really encouraged, reading about the painting of the rainbow crosswalk,” she says. “We will be connecting with people from the diverse community in Rossland… from the comments of the young person interviewed, they’ll start off feeling they’re not the only ones here.

“To hear that a small rural community can be so supportive is really, really nice.”

Since it began about eight years ago, the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees has provided new homes and lives for three families, as well as supporting three other private refugee settlements — making a total of 19 refugee men, women and children.

While not all the families have stayed in Rossland, “everyone is pretty much working, supporting and paying taxes,” she says. “So we’ve had pretty good success with the families we’ve sponsored.”

SEE: Castlegar airport sees reunion of Syrian refugee family

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While Ruta Zakarias and her two sons, Eyobed and Yonathan, have moved away, they return to Rossland to enjoy skiing and friends. Submitted photo.

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