North

N.W.T. steps up efforts to help Syrian refugees

Yellowknifers and the territorial government are stepping up to help with the Syrian refugee crisis. This morning, the premier pledged to donate $25,000 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

N.W.T. government pledges to donate $25K to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

Yellowknifers crowd a boardroom at City Hall Thursday night to talk about how to help with the Syrian refugee crisis. (Marc Winkler/CBC)

Yellowknifers and the territorial government are stepping up to help with the Syrian refugee crisis.

In a press release this morning, N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod committed to donate $25,000 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as an immediate response to the crisis.

"Northerners, like all Canadians, have been deeply moved by the many lives lost and risks taken by refugees fleeing conflict in Syria," McLeod said in the release.

While many other provinces have said they will open their doors to more Syrian refugees, the territorial government is still "exploring other ways to help because we do not already have a role in refugee settlement services," said McLeod.

The government is talking with other provinces and territories about what they're doing and what their settlement programs entail.

'They have been bugging me to get moving'

At least one church in Yellowknife is already making plans to sponsor Syrian refugees. Kristen Cameron of the Calvary Community Church says her office has been flooded with calls from parishioners who want to help.

"They have been bugging me to get moving," Cameron says.

She says they're just in the beginning stages of the process. She hopes to form a committee this Sunday that will develop a sponsorship plan.

The Yellowknife church is associated with the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, which is a sponsorship agreement holder and has access to resources, refugee profiles and a refugee co-ordinator based in Calgary. Cameron says that clears a number of hurdles for them.

Organizations that are sponsorship agreement holders are already approved to sponsor refugees. Groups of five or more Canadians and community sponsors can also apply.

"We don't have quite the amount of paperwork that let's say a group of five would have to because we don't have to do all that background proofing. Basically that has been done," Cameron says.

"It's not an easy process, especially if you want to sponsor [a refugee] yourself," says Nicole Sock, who was among two dozen people packed into a boardroom at Yellowknife's City Hall Thursday night.

Mayor Mark Heyck hosted a forum so people could share information about sponsoring refugees.

"The issue has been on my heart," says Sock, whose husband was born in a Cambodian refugee camp and brought to Canada by a church in the 1980s. Now their family is looking at possibly becoming sponsors.

Much of the discussion Thursday night centred around battling lengthy paperwork. Sock says if people can't deal with the mounds of paperwork, donating money is also a good option.

"The United Nations is probably the best place to donate," she says. " All their funds go to their camps that they have set up for Syrian refugees all over the different countries."

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