By Greg Price
One picture has stirred a thousand emotions as southern Albertan church groups have joined forces to help the Syrian refugee cause.
The image that went viral in early September was of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, which depicted the dark-haired toddler, wearing a bright-red T-shirt and shorts, washed up on a beach, lying face down in the surf not far from Turkey’s resort town of Bodrum.
Kurdi’s brother Galip and mother Rehan met a similar fate in a desperate attempt to flee to relatives in Canada where family resided in Vancouver.
Canada allows refugees to settle if they have the sponsorship of at least five Canadian citizens, on the condition that those citizens provide financial and emotional support. The town the family fled from was bombarded during heavy fighting this year between Islamic State and Kurdish fighters.
“This summer, most of the country has seen the upheaval that has occurred in Syria and watching the human tragedies that are happening with the families there. The picture got people thinking, ‘what if that was my son or my grandson?’,” said Audrey Krizsan, a member of the newly formed Lethbridge Resettlement Committee (LRC).
“There was an awareness in our congregation. Erin Phillips is the chaplain for the college and the university and is an Anglican priest, and she comes up to us twice a month (in Taber). She became aware of an organization, Syria to Lethbridge and brought it to us.”
Krizsan’s congregation was interested in sponsoring a Syrian family alongside and found out in a meeting that two Mennonite churches and the United churches in Lethbridge and Coaldale had already raised enough money to sponsor two families to bring to Canada.
Now, church groups in Taber are hoping to do the same.
“We learned what our responsibilities are, because what we are doing is private sponsorship,” said Krizsan.“We found out the Mennonite Central Committee has third-party status with the government and is willing to do all the paperwork. The Mennonite Central Committee has had decades of humanitarian work they have done, so we are in very good hands.”
The Refugee Fund has been set up where hopes are one family that has been identified with seven adults and seven children can be brought over to Canada, to safety. Lethbridge Resettlement Committee is comprised of people from the hospital at the University of Lethbridge, Anglican Church of Ascension (Coaldale), St. Theodore’s Anglican Church (Taber), St. Augustine’s Anglican Church (Lethbridge), Lethbridge Mennonite Church, Coaldale Mennonite Church, McKillop United Church (Lethbridge), Southminster United Church (Lethbridge), Coaldale United Church, and Knox United Church (Taber). Every church listed is able to take donations for the Lethbridge Resettlement Committee.
“We are a very large group who is interested in bringing refugees over from Syria and supporting them,” said Diane Nelson, another member of the Lethbridge Resettlement Committee.
The Lethbridge Resettlement Committee falls under private sponsorship where they have identified specific refugees they would like to sponsor. The family of seven adults and seven children have children ranging from ages two to 14.
“We need to raise $110,000 to bring this family over and support them for one year. The family will be expected to pay the travel costs back to the government. Within six months of staying here, they will have to start paying back the government for travel costs,” said Nelson.
Refugee status gives people the ability to work immediately in Canada according to Krizsan. They also have rights to health care, but cannot vote until they apply for official citizenship.
“The money that has to be raised is like a safety cushion. You have your rent and your daily costs until they are able to support themselves,” said Krizsan, adding the Syrian family Lethbridge Resettlement Committee has had paper work started on has cleared background and health checks, certified by the UN and currently residing in refugee camps in Jordan. “Most of these folks as we have learned in the Syrian people, are very well educated and industrious people from a highly-developed area of the world.”
Cash donations can be made or cheques can written to St. Theodore’s Anglican Church Refugee Fund. Donors will be given a tax receipt for any donation over $20. There will be a Syria to Lethbridge Benefit Concert at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church in Lethbridge on Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. Cost is $20 and concert will feature U of L singers, Incanto singers and LCI singers.
Also, on Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. there will be a Syrian refugee forum at Southminster United Church in Lethbridge. The free of charge event will be a history and information session to educate people on the plight that is happening in the area.
“They are going to show a video of a lady who has been working in the Syrian refugee camp to let people see first hand what it’s like and to answer questions. It is to get the correct information out and alleviate some of the concerns. There is a lot of misinformation out there,” said Nelson.
“I saw a map that was released on Facebook, and it showed all the different factions that are fighting. These people are caught between everybody,” added Krizsan. “You have the al-Assad, you have the anti-al-Assad, you have the ISIS terrorist group, and now you have the Russians now in there bombing indiscriminately and then foreign fighters. They are caught in a vortex of war. Our little group decided if there was something we could do, we would do it.”
Whatever the politics that surround the area, the Lethbridge Resettlement Committee simply wants to do its part to help bring a family to safety.
“The family is two brothers and their wives, and they have two children each. One sister has three children and her husband was in the refugee camp, but he went back into Syria to try and retrieve money that wa sowed him and they haven’t heard from him since. They don’t know if he’s alive or they have taken him,” said Nelson. “The sister is quite concerned because her 14-year-old son is quite tall for his age and she is quite terrified ISIS will come back over the border and take him to fight in their army. We want to get this family out as fast as we can.”