By Rana Nelson, Revelstoke for Refugees
You may be wondering how the Syrian family sponsored by Revelstoke for Refugees (RFR) is doing. How are the kids settling in? How is their English coming along? Is the money/item/service you donated being put to good use?
Well, the Almastous are still in the Mafraq refugee camp in Jordan.
As with thousands of Canadian groups sponsoring refugee families, RFR is in a holding pattern. We have the funds (thank you, Revelstoke!), we have the accommodation (thank you, Kristina and Reilly Geidt!), and we have the people and organizations ready to support the family (thank you again, Revelstoke!).
According to Canada 4 Refugees, a “national non-profit group that aims to both promote and support the citizen sponsorship model for refugee resettlement through advocacy, education and awareness” (canada4refugees.org), as of September 2016, there were “23,229 refugees already in the system—refugees who already have Canadian citizen sponsorship groups ready to sponsor and support them.”
According to the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, which is the Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) we’re working with, Canada’s February 2016 goal of 25,000 refugees was met so quickly because the government seconded people from their regular positions to work on applications. In March 2016, those employees returned to their regular jobs, and the wait time for a Syrian family returned to almost its original length: one to two years.
Revelstoke for Refugees has emailed the prime minister, met with our MP, registered with Canada 4 Refugees, and asked the SAH whether there’s anything we can do to speed up the process. We have been told that the Almastou family likely won’t arrive until May 2017.
The good news is that our sponsorship documents were cleared on the Canadian side in late summer 2016. They are now in Jordan for approval there, and the family must go through their health and security interviews. As frustrating as this may be for us, we are assuming that it’s much more frustrating for the Almastous!
We have been in contact with Rakan Turki Almastou, the father in the family, through Mustafa Zakreet, the first Syrian to come to Salmon Arm through the sponsorship program. Zakreet talked to Almastou through What’s App, a messaging app that many people use to connect with family and friends overseas. In an email, Zakreet told me that connection is difficult as the internet in Jordan is very bad, but that he continues to try. He said that Almastou has many questions about life in Canada.
Revelstoke for Refugees also sent a welcome letter to the Almastous through SAH staff in Mafraq, as well as letters to their children from Begbie View Elementary students. The camp staff will translate the letters for the Almastous and we hope to get some responses soon. We want to establish a relationship with the Almastous before they arrive so they know a welcoming, caring community is waiting for them.
Meanwhile, our volunteers have started ESL tutor training, the Geidts are working on their renovations, we are attending online and in-person sponsorship training sessions, and are connecting with the Syrian groups in Salmon Arm to learn how we can make the Almastous’ transition to Canada as smooth as possible.
Thank you, Revelstoke, for your donations and commitments to helping the Almastou family move from strife to safety – it takes a community!
Two letters from students to the Almastou family
Dear Syrian Refugees,
I heard that you guys were coming to Revelstoke! I’m pretty excited that you guys are coming to this town! Revelstoke is a pretty cool town and there are no wars and a lot of people are nice and friendly! I hope that you guys have a good time here in Revelstoke. We have skiing, roller coasters, tubing, restaurants and stores! We have a ton of houses to choose from and I hope you are my neighbour! We get a lot of snow here, but every year we get less and less snow! Anyways, I hope to see you in town.
P.S. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Where you guys lived you probably didn’t have much water and food, but we have lots of water and food. And we don’t have wars!
Dear Syrian family,
I hope you will have fun in Revelstoke.Welcome to Revelstoke!
I am writing this letter because I thought you would like some suggestions about what to do in Revelstoke in summer and in winter.
I can tell you why Revelstoke is a good place to stay. There is no crime here ever, and everybody is nice here. I have seen only one angry person so far.
There are really nice people here and also lovely food. Our food might taste different from the food you eat, but our food is delicious, too. My favourite food is lasagne.
We have the best beach at Williamsons Lake, because there is not much seaweed. You can go hiking, too. My favourite places are: the beach, the ski hill, the pool and my home. I can teach you downhill skiing and how to swim, but you can also sign up for lessons.
Our school, Begbie View Elementary, is full of nice people. I hope you’ll be in my class.
Good-bye, and I hope you’ll have a great life in Canada!