With the final hurdle passed, Whistler is just weeks away from welcoming its first Syrian refugee family.
Whistler Refugee Response group board member Sarah Morden confirmed the news on Monday, Sept. 19: After waiting in limbo for months, the family of five has passed its initial security screening and is expected to arrive within four to six weeks.
“We have received a pre-notification of arrival,” Morden said. “The date isn’t firm yet, so I’m not going to speculate on when exactly, but things are moving along. Now we’re out of the waiting period.”
Initially the adult family — ages 56, 31, 30, 30 and 23 — were slated to arrive in April, but a processing backlog in Ottawa had forced the widowed mother, her three adult children and a cousin to remain in Lebanon, where they have been put up by a Christian church. The family has been screened by both the United Nations and Canadian immigration officials.
The delay has come with a silver lining, however, allowing the response group ample time to prepare for the family’s arrival. They’ve so far raised close to $50,000, secured a house that was donated for the family to stay in, and arranged English lessons.
“The integration team is working on lining everything up for them when they get here, like English lessons and making sure they have everything they might need, kind of stockpiling supplies, basically,” Morden noted.
The family, consisting of three females and two males, will be permanent residents when they land, making them eligible to find jobs. But Morden said the response group is trying to ascertain the family’s English ability before helping them secure work.
In terms of other support, Morden said there might also be some need for winter clothing, but the group will have a better handle on that once the family arrives.
At a March meeting of the response group, victim impact statements from the family — Christian Syrians who regularly faced persecution in their homeland — were read aloud.
The mother is a recent window, while the cousin was reportedly abducted by terrorists in 2015 and held for three days before being released on a $5,000 ransom. The statements also said the young men were pressured to fight on either side of the Syrian civil war, and the entire family has received death threats.
Needless to say, the family is looking forward to settling into their new Canadian home.
“They’re really excited to get here, start working and get involved in the community,” said Morden, who added that one member of the response group who speaks Arabic has showed the family photos of Whistler.
“She showed them a photo of the baseball diamonds and they were like, ‘We don’t understand baseball but we’re keen on learning how to play.’”
A GoFundMe page has been set up accepting donations for the family at www.gofundme.com/7hqurmyk.