Nova Scotia

Cape Breton towns and villages consider taking Syrian refugees

There will be a meeting in Baddeck to gauge community interest in sponsoring Syrian refugees, after Lifeline Syria-Cape Breton made a presentation to Victoria County council.

Lifeline Syria-Cape Breton impresses council of Municipality of Victoria County with presentation

The Municipality of Victoria County is gauging whether there's community interest in sponsoring Syrian refugees. (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)

A community meeting in Baddeck tonight will gauge support for bringing a Syrian refugee family to the area.

Athol Grant, a councillor with the Municipality of Victoria Count, says he's aware of some interest from church groups and others in the Baddeck area in sponsoring a Syrian family.

He said the meeting at St. Michael's Hall tonight will determine whether there's enough support to move ahead, and whether other communities in the county also want to sponsor a family. He says county council is eager to be involved in the effort.

"We need younger people, and we need people coming in rather than going out," says Grant, who is also the county's representative on the Lifeline Syria-Cape Breton steering committee, a volunteer group trying to bring refugees to the island.

"We want to be part of the solution to the world problems, I guess, as well. Small communities, I think, can assist, as well as bigger areas. Maybe not in as grand a way, but we think we can contribute."

Grant has a personal interest in the issue. He was involved in helping settle a Vietnamese family in Baddeck in the early 1980s.

'Pay attention and help them'

He said language was a big challenge, especially for the older members of the refugee family. But they settled in well, he says, and stayed in the area for several years.

"I think the lessons were that you have to be attentive and pay attention and help them and don't just take them in and abandon them," he said. 

"You have to visit them and encourage them, and help them get the social insurance numbers, help them get driving lessons if they want to drive. Just pay attention and be friends."

Amanda MacDougall, manager of Immigration Partnerships at Cape Breton University and a member of Lifeline Syria-Cape Breton, was involved in a presentation to Victoria County council earlier this week.

She said the group is still waiting to learn whether the island will get any of the 25,000 government-assisted refugees the Liberal government has pledged to bring to Canada.

Supports and services

In the meantime, she said the focus is on making sure interested communities have the supports and services in place to help settle any Syrian families that may come. 

"Besides the financial requirements, there needs to be emotional support, there needs to be things like transportation in place, ensuring that we have the proper educational and health-related supports and systems available," she said.

MacDougall said the steering committee has been working actively with the Lifeline Syria-Inverness County chapter based in Port Hood, and she said there's also been interest from groups in Cheticamp and Port Hawkesbury.

"It's so encouraging. There are small pockets of groups, of organizations, it could be church groups coming together, to really profile their communities as prepared and ready. So it's a lot of organization, but it's coming together relatively quickly."

Lifeline Syria-Cape Breton's goal is to bring 100 Syrian refugee families to the island.

MacDougall said the committee will meet with area MPs Thursday. She then hopes to have a better idea whether any of those families will be supported under the federal program.

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