Brian Ayotte, head of the former Salmon Arm Refugee Coalition, looks over a pamphlet describing the situation for Syrian refugees. (Observer file photo)

Syrian refugees fear for lives at home

Former head of Salmon Arm Refugee Coalition says Canada should be doing more

(SEE ACCOMPANYING ARTICLE ON HOW THE SYRIAN FAMILIES ARE DOING IN SALMON ARM AT THIS LINK)

As the man who was at the helm of the Salmon Arm Refugee Coalition, Brian Ayotte has a unique view of the project that brought nine Syrian refugee families to Salmon Arm.

Mustafa Zakreet, the first Syrian to arrive, has been in the community for about two-and-a-half years, and the coalition, which coordinated the efforts, has completed its work.

Exhausting and rewarding is how Ayotte describes the past two years.

“I think, speaking on behalf of most of the volunteers, I think it was a little more work than people anticipated. They (the refugees) have experienced trauma, huge losses and they needed a lot of help and encouragement. It wasn’t so much raising the money, but accompanying them in this transition.

“Some cases, it was very easy, others it was difficult, but they have all made an amazing transition to Canadian culture.”

Related: City prepares for refugees

Ayotte says there’s a little fatigue on the part of volunteers but most want to keep at it.

“It’s even very rewarding. When you see the smile on the faces, particularly the children, and hear the thank-you from the parent, it’s pretty powerful.”

All the families are very motivated, he adds, doing their best to find work and be reponsible Canadians.

In his view, one of the most amazing things about the whole experience is the way people came together to support the Syrians.

“The coming together of the various groups in Salmon Arm was astounding,” he says, describing how he’s never seen a group of individuals, two Rotary clubs and 11 churches work on anything together like they did.

Nine sponsoring groups had at least 20 volunteers each.

“So you’re talking 200 people.”

Related: Syrian families welcomed

The federal government required proof that the sponsoring groups were capable of raising the roughly $30,000 or more each family needed for sponsorships – meaning close to $300,000 was raised.

“So for a little town like this, that’s unbelievable.”

Ayotte says Shuswap Settlement Services has also been a huge support.

He has noticed that the federal government’s commitment to bringing in the refugees slowed substantially after the first 38,000 were admitted.

“I’d like to see Canada double the number of refugees. They have immigration quotas, but a lot are economic immigrants. If you show you have $300,000 to invest in a business, you go in a different line. I think we need some of that, yes, but we need to pay attention to those with the greatest need.”

And this need is the greatest.

“People are afraid of getting killed,” he emphasizes. “This is not people being afraid of getting diarrhea. This is people afraid of dying.”


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

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Okanagan College ESL instructor Olia Bullen introduces Salmon Arm’s new Syrian residents during a presentation at the Salmon Arm campus for their Multicultural Day celebration. (File photo)

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