Church-sponsored Syrian refugees could arrive in Whitehorse by fall

The Riverdale Baptist Church has waited months to welcome a family of Syrian refugees to Whitehorse. "Finally, this is coming together."

Riverdale Baptist Church expecting family of five Syrians to arrive from Turkey

'Finally, this is coming together,' said Hillary Gladish of the Riverdale Baptist Church's organizing committee. (Mardy Derby/CBC)

Whitehorse could soon welcome its second family of Syrian refugees — maybe as early as September.

The Riverdale Baptist Church says it recently received word that it has been paired with a "travel-ready" family of five, now living in Turkey.

"I think we're all really excited," said Hillary Gladish, from the church's organizing committee. 

"There's some trepidation, and it's pretty daunting  — now, finally, this is coming together and the work is just beginning."

Yukon's first Syrian refugee family arrived last winter, sponsored by the local group Yukon Cares. The Riverdale Baptist Church began its efforts to host another family, around the same time.

Another family still in Iraq

The church was paired with a different Syrian family months ago, but that family is now stuck in Iraq with no clear indication of when they might be allowed to travel. 

"Unfortunately, that application for the family to come to Canada has been... it's been challenged. There's no immigration office for Canada in Iraq," she said.

The immigration process could therefore take up to four years, Gladish said. In the meantime, she says, the church is eager to welcome the other family from Turkey.

Yukon's first Syrian refugee family, the Aarafats, arrived in Whitehorse in January, sponsored by the local group Yukon Cares. (Sandi Coleman/CBC)

Gladish said the church's fundraising efforts have built momentum and it's important to keep that going.

"We recognize that the initiative and the intention for the giving was primarily focussed around helping a crisis — a current crisis — and so we made the decision that we were going to go after, and be paired with, a second family so we could use those resources and donations."

She says the church has not given up on the first family, still in Iraq, and will be ready and able to welcome them to Whitehorse whenever they're able to come — even if it's at the same time the other family arrives from Turkey.

"We have the manpower and the resources to be able to manage both."

Any Yukoners speak Turkish?

Gladish does not yet know a lot about the family in Turkey, beyond a few details. It's a family of five — with three children, all pre-teens. The father has worked as a heavy equipment operator, and the mother is a homemaker, Gladish said.

Gladish believes they are currently living in a refugee camp in Turkey, but their roots are in Damascus and Aleppo, in Syria. They speak Turkish and Arabic.

"We're really hoping that there's someone [in Yukon] who might come forward, and they have Turkish skills and they might be able to help in translation," Gladish said.

Gladish said the church is also looking for a three-bedroom apartment or home for rent in Whitehorse, beginning in September. Under the Blended Visa Office-Referred Program, the church must help and support the family for its first year in Yukon.

The sponsorship initiative has really "galvanized" the church congregation, Gladish said.

"This has really brought the church together, and it sort of epitomizes our motto of 'first we will serve.'"

With files from Sandi Coleman