A Syrian refugee family arrives in Lethbridge to begin their new lives. Photo courtesy of Lethbridge Family Services.
By mid-February, Lethbridge will have welcomed 111 Syrian refugees, and the community is ready to welcome more, thanks to collaboration among local public sector and support service agencies. Lethbridge Family Services (LFS) is the lead agency working closely with numerous other organizations, agencies, and partners, including the City of Lethbridge, to settle the Syrian refugees.
To date, Syrians arriving in Lethbridge have large families, and it is not uncommon for them to have at least eight family members. Approximately 65 per cent of these families are school-aged children. This is quite a change from the past few years where most of the refugees have been older.
Lethbridge is still on track to receive the anticipated 240 government assisted refugees by the end of 2016, and 144 are expected to arrive by the end of February. In addition, 35 privately sponsored refugees are expected by the end of February. These numbers are in addition to the as many as 70 international refugees that Lethbridge typically welcomes every year.
“LFS is working around the clock to welcome Syrians and ensure they have what they need to make a fresh start. This is possible because of the outstanding support that our agency has received from the community. I would like to thank everyone who has offered to lend a hand and welcome these refugees to Southern Alberta,” says Sarah Amies, Director of Immigrant Services for LFS.
Hundreds of volunteers have stepped up to welcome refugees and dedicate their time to mentor them, help them get oriented, and introduce them to their personal networks. In addition, donations of household items and clothing have been pouring in to help these families set up their Canadian homes. Nearly $11,000 in cash donations have been donated to the Refugee Settlement Fund set up by LFS.
“It is truly inspiring to witness this tremendous community effort. Lethbridge can be proud of the fact that our coordinated effort to welcome Syrian refugees is a model for other communities,” says Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman. “This is the right thing for us to do as a compassionate, inclusive, welcoming community.”
Mayor Spearman adds that his role with the steering committee is to stay informed on the coordinated effort and provide advocacy to federal and provincial representatives on specific issues or needs that are identified. “Finding appropriate and affordable housing may be a recurring challenge, so we’ve already begun working to have that addressed,” he says.
The Steering Committee to Welcome Syrian People to Lethbridge is a broad-based community initiative led by LFS to prepare for the successful settlement of refugee families and individuals from Syria. The Steering Committee includes a range of local public sectors including immigration services, education, health, employment, language, municipal services, family and human services, community agencies, private refugee sponsors, emergency services, and law enforcement.