Nova Scotia

Sherbrooke group struggles with choice to help refugee family

An inter-denominational group in Guysborough County recently struggled with a decision on which family of refugees they should bring to their community.

Group says Citizenship and Immigration Canada needs to do more to connect them with refugees

Rebecca Moore belongs to a group in Sherbrooke that struggled with the decision of which refugee family to help. (CBC)

Rebecca Moore knows she's making a life-altering — perhaps life-saving — decision about people she has never met.

Moore sits in her Sherbrooke living room with more than half a dozen other members of an inter-denominational group. Their gut-wrenching challenge is to decide which family of refugees they should bring to their community.

Tears well up in Moore's eyes when she thinks of some of television images she's seen in recent days of Syrian refugees pleading for help. But the most disturbing for her has been the image of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian toddler who drowned after his families bid to escape to a better life.

"Let's not let that be in vain. Let us urge other people to see that this is a very serious situation," Moore said.

The group in Sherbrooke is trying to choose a family that will be compatible with the community — in Guysborough County — and one that the group is capable of caring for. (CBC)

But increasingly, groups like Moore's are finding it difficult to help. They say Citizenship and Immigration Canada needs to do more to connect them with desperate refugees.

"The lists that come across to us do not have very many Syrians or Iraqis on the list. I understand because there is a slow down in the processing of these people. And there just doesn't seem to be enough," said Len Archibald, another Sherbrooke group member trying to help. 

"When they do appear on the list, there are so many people looking to sponsor them that they disappear quickly."

The list the group is referring to comes from the federal government through the Baptist Church, which has agreed to sponsor Syrian refugees.

But it has more families on it from northern Africa than from Syria.

Finding a good match

The other challenge the group has is finding a good match. They're trying to choose a family that will be compatible with the Sherbrooke community — in Guysborough County — and one that the group is capable of caring for.

For example, one Syrian family has 13 members — which is too large for Sherbrooke to handle.

Another family wants to be near a big city.

"We have some difficulty deciding because all of these people are in need. We've been looking at the list. Our emphasis was on the Syrian refugee crisis," Archibald said. 

Final decision

In the end, the group chooses a family of five from Congo, who has been on the list for seven years.

The Nova Scotians know the family only by their assigned number — 298.

The group is disappointed it can't help a Syrian family.

"Hopefully, if we're blessed with good support, maybe some time in the future we could look at the Syrian situation again," said Archibald.

The lesson here for the Sherbrooke group is that even those who are motivated to help desperate Syrian refugees face multiple challenges doing so.

It's a difficult reality.

But the group heads for home feeling good because they know they are helping a family in need.

About the Author

Tom Murphy is co-host of CBC Nova Scotia's supper hour news program and correspondent for The National. He also hosts Land and Sea and is brother to Bob.

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