Saskatchewan

Regina groups join together to support Syrian refugees

The Regina Open Door Society says it will be able to meet the needs of Syrian refugees arriving in the city and has been overwhelmed by the community offering to help.

The Regina Open Door Society says its had 'overwhelming' offers from community

The Regina Open Door Society says with help from its partners and people in Regina, it can handle helping Syrian refugees who are destined for life in Saskatchewan. (Tory Gillis/CBC)

The Regina Open Door Society (RODS) says it will be able to meet the needs of Syrian refugees arriving in the community, but it takes a lot of other groups and help from the public to make it work. It says it will take some extra planning before it knows every way that people can pitch in.

Right now, it's compiling lists of: 

  • translators, particularly in Arabic, Kurdish and Aramaic languages
  • volunteers of all kinds including mentors and tutors.
  • health care providers including physicians, dentists and eye doctors who are taking new patients.
  • employers who are interested in hiring newcomers.
  • landlords and housing authorities with homes to rent.

'I'm very confident that we've planned broadly, and I think over-planned a little bit'

RODS Executive Director, Darcy Dietrich says the changes and speculation over just how many people the province is expecting has made it somewhat difficult to plan for every detail. Estimates, he said, have ranged between 2,500 people to closer to 850.

"We do this day in and day out, so the difference with this is initiative is that it's so public and that we weren't certain of the numbers. And I think we all expected --in Saskatchewan-- I think, higher numbers," Dietrich said. "So i'm very confident that we've planned broadly, and I think over-planned a little bit."

The group named other successful times when large numbers of refugees or immigrants have arrived in a short span of time, including many Vietnamese, Kosovars, Bhutanese and Karin people. 

"We have been there," said Getachew Woldeyesus RODS' Settlement, Family and Community Manager. "But nothing we have done successfully, we've done alone. As long as we embrace our partners and we are open to engaging the public I think this time we will be successful," he said.

The non-profit newcomer settlement service provider says it's been in touch with its partners, including school boards, the health sector, landlords and housing authorities, the Chamber of Commerce, and the three levels of government.

Many of those partners are represented at a council called the Regina Region Local Immigration Partnership. It's organizing a centralized plan for what's needed for refugees, and how people can best give help or support. 

More information to come regarding donation needs

"Donations are still being worked out," Woldeyesus said. "There will be more announcements in the coming days on how the donations will be coordinated."

Dietrich explained that it's not necessarily as simple as dropping off winter coats for people to wear in the cold, because sometimes government will provide coats for refugees who need them. It's also developing a way to coordinate its many new volunteers.

The group is planning to learn more while it's part of a national planning meeting this weekend. 

It has a special page on its web site, RODS.sk.ca, devoted to sharing information about Syrian Refugees and their settlement.

Help by the numbers

In the meantime-- RODS has been 'overwhelmed, amazed and heartened' with calls and offers of support from the community. Within a week, Dietrich said RODS received a large number of offers:

  • 160 new volunteers phoned.
  • More than 50 people and organizations interested in donating.
  • Donation offers spanning from money, clothing, items for pregnant women and new mothers and someone called and offered to donate a car.
  • Free Yoga classes at a yoga business and free coffee and Internet access from a café.
  • ​RODS believes approximately 1,000 Syrians currently live around Saskatchewan, with around 45-100 living in Regina right now.
  • Dietrich says there's a renewed interest in private refugee sponsorship so it's looking to hold information sessions for people and groups who are interested. 
  • It's working with local Islamic Associations to add to its current list of 40 Arabic interpreters

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