Nova Scotia

N.S. sponsorship groups finding new ways to welcome Syrian families

It's no longer as easy as it once was for private groups to raise the funds necessary to sponsor refugee families. But some groups have found alternative ways to continue their efforts.

2 groups in Pictou County sponsoring 7 families

Sponsoring groups are drawing on funds provided by a non-profit called the Shapiro Foundation. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Nearly three years after the federal government first made a plan to sponsor 25,000 Syrian refugees, the plight of Syrian refugees is no longer top of mind for many Canadians.

But some private sponsorship groups in Nova Scotia are finding new ways to continue the sponsorship of Syrian families. 

Two refugee sponsorship groups in Pictou County, Communities Assisting Refugees Now (CAiRN), in Pictou, N.S., and Pictou County Safe Harbour in New Glasgow, are sponsoring seven families between them, with the first set to arrive this week.

Sarah MacIntosh-Wiseman, chair of Pictou County Safe Harbour, told the CBC's Information Morning that two years ago, groups like theirs would have had to fundraise all the money to cover those families' costs for a year. 

But the cost of this most recent round of sponsorships is being fully subsidized by a group of organizations including the Shapiro Foundation, which is covering the $20,000 that sponsorship groups would normally have to provide. 

"It's a 50/50 cost share between … this fund and the federal government is covering the other 50 per cent."

Without the barrier of raising the money themselves to worry about, Safe Harbour will be able to sponsor five families, with CAiRN sponsoring another two. 

Other sponsorship groups in Nova Scotia, such as Route 333 Sponsorship Association in Prospect, are also drawing on Shapiro Foundation funding to bring in families.

Community effort

And while some sponsorship applications take years to process, the groups in Pictou County only received word in September that the families would be arriving in a matter of weeks.

"It's one of the magical things about small communities like Pictou County. People are just coming out of the woodwork to help."

MacIntosh-Wiseman said while sponsoring so many families at once might seem like it'd put more strain on Safe Harbour's capacity to help, it's likely to make it easier, as it means the organization can tap into more funding and support services in the area.

"We're going to be able to do things like offering group language classes on a larger scale, [and] help with transportation and employment-related skills training."

MacIntosh-Wiseman said they expect all the families will be in New Glasgow by Oct. 20 — and that everything will be ready. 

"We're in a bit of a flurry of activity getting five households … ready to turn into homes," she said. "We've had some really wonderful people step forward, not only to help with those small items, but landlords who are willing to step in on short notice and make very reasonably priced accommodations available."

Earlier arrivals to help

The new arrivals won't be the first Syrian families to arrive in New Glasgow thanks to the sponsorship of Safe Harbour. The first family arrived in 2016. 

"They are now an integral part of our group as well, so they are part of the welcoming process.… They've got a much better understanding of the experiences these families have gone through."

MacIntosh-Wiseman said the first family to arrive — who she said is doing "incredibly well" — will not only help the other Syrian families adjust, but has also shown the community how much it can gain from welcoming newcomers.

"It's one of the reasons we've really been trying to emphasize … that we think there's a solution available to help with resettlement in small communities, and those families that are here are a perfect example," she said. "It has been a really wonderful way to build our community."

With files from Information Morning

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