Winnipeggers learn about sponsoring Syrian refugees at info session

It was standing room only at an open house held in Winnipeg on Tuesday night, where members of the public learned about sponsoring Syrian refugees and what resources are available to help them in the process.

Non-profit groups gather at Millennium Library to explain services to prospective sponsors

It was standing room only at an open house held in Winnipeg on Tuesday night, where members of the public learned about sponsoring Syrian refugees and what resources are available to help them in the process 1:42
It was standing room only at an open house held in Winnipeg on Tuesday night, where members of the public learned about sponsoring Syrian refugees and what resources are available to help them in the process.
Manitobans learn more about the process of sponsoring Syrian refugees, and what services are available to help them, during an open house at the Millennium Library in Winnipeg on Tuesday evening. (Caroline Barghout/CBC)

Representatives from about a dozen non-profit organizations, including the Canadian Red Cross, Mennonite Central Committee and the Manitoba Islamic Association, were on hand at Tuesday's event at the Millennium Library to explain sponsorship-related services available in Winnipeg.

"I'm hoping that people have a more concrete idea as to what to do, how to help," said Salam Al Sayed of the Syrian Assembly of Manitoba.

Among the approximately 100 people who came to learn about the refugee sponsorship process was Margarita Gonzalez, 23, who left El Salvador and came to Winnipeg with her family when she was two years old.

"I think as a child of immigrant parents, I have a personal connection to other countries and, you know, difficult circumstances that happen elsewhere in the world," she said.

"I wanted to find out what I could do to help. Sometimes when you're so far away from a world situation that's happening, you could feel a little bit helpless and you're not really sure what you can do."

Those at the open house also heard from refugees who now call Winnipeg home.

Nour Ali described fleeing Syria nine years ago and finding asylum in China, then having to move to another country after the Syrian conflict began.

Family members of 24 Syrian refugees who arrived in Winnipeg earlier this month greeted them with signs, hugs and presents. (Angela Johnston/CBC)
He said a friend connected him with the Mennonite Central Committee and Douglas Mennonite Church, which sponsored him and his family to come to Canada.

However, political red tape meant the process took two years, Ali said. They arrived in Winnipeg in 2013.

These days, Ali is part of the Kurdish Association of Manitoba and has been speaking in schools about the Syrian refugee crisis.

"Canada should accept more refugees; they should help more refugees," he said, adding that the association hopes Canada's new Liberal government will allow more refugees into the country.

He said his brother-in-law and wife arrived in Winnipeg six months ago, while his sister is expected to follow suit in March.

Wanting to help with 'a human problem'

St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes said the information session was organized after the city received a lot of feedback in recent weeks from Winnipeggers who are concerned about the refugee crisis.

Mayes commended Mayor Brian Bowman for coming up with the idea of connecting people who want to help with organizations that can help them.

"We could have just sat there and said this is a federal government problem, but the mayor and the members of council said this is a human problem and this is something we should help with," he said.

"We're really just trying to connect members of the public with these groups who know how to go about sponsoring refugees."


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