Compassion, and not security, is the priority as Vernon prepares to welcome refugees fleeing civil war.
Members of the newly formed North Okanagan Refugee Committee were before Vernon council Monday, providing details about their group and the goal of bringing families here.
“The committee wants to support refugees from around the world but Syria has been a catalyst,” said Annette Sharkey, with the Social Planning Council.
Some concerns have arisen across Canada about security, particularly since the Paris terrorist attacks, but Sharkey says any Syrians coming to Vernon will be pre-screened in refugee camps.
“If the west closes its doors to refugees, it’s a win for the terrorists. It’s in their best interest to shut down the refugee program.”
Many of the Syrian have been in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan for months if not years.
The federal government has indicated that those selected to come to Canada will be women, children and families, not single men.
Coun. Juliette Cunningham plays down the perceived threat refugees pose.
“It’s concerning to see what’s happening on social media – the fear mongering and rhetoric,” she said.
Mayor Akbal Mund also shares that view.
“They want to find a better place for their families. They will be sensational for our community and give back,” he said.
The committee will provide resources to local groups and residents wanting to sponsor refugees.
“Our community has stepped to the plate many times,” said Carol Wutzke, of Vernon Immigrant Services, referring to other refugees who have come to Vernon including Kosovars and Vietnamese.
A website has been launched to provide more details including information on the sponsorship process, a list of local sponsoring agencies, how to donate both locally and internationally, and where to sign up to volunteer, once refugee families arrive.
Vernon Immigrant Services will co-ordinate volunteers and in-kind donations for the various sponsoring groups, as well as provide provide settlement services, English classes and employment counselling to refugees.
Among those moving ahead to sponsor refugees are the Armstrong community, Trinity United Church, All Saints Anglican Church and East Hill Community Church/East Hill Community Church has previous welcomed individuals from Africa and Asia.
“Our experience has been profound as we support people from many cultures, backgrounds and faiths to rebuild their lives and make Vernon their home,” said Jake Spoor, with the church.
Sharkey says there are long-term benefits if refugees come to the North Okanagan, particularly for the economy.
“We will have to rely on immigration for the skills gap. We do need families,” she said.
For more information, go to www.norc.ca