Island’s first refugee family approved

MANITOULIN—The Little Current refugee steering committee was jubilant with the news that they have been approved for the Eritrean family they are sponsoring and plans are advancing well to prepare for their arrival.

“We have a family,” said group coordinator Linda Erskine. “We have confirmed that it will be a widow and her six children, three sons and three daughters.”

The family consists of the 54-year-old widow and her three sons aged 19, 25 and 30 and three daughters 7, 11 and 15. They are Eritrean refugees currently residing in a refugee camp in Ethiopia and are of Kunama descent.

“Two speak some English, the 25-year-old and 19-year-old sons,” noted Ms. Erskine, adding that the committee is currently seeking someone who can act as an interpreter for the family.

Ms. Erskine explained that the widow fled Eretria after the death of her husband, taking her family with her to escape persecution. She cannot return to Eritrea as she left without permission. She is considered a ‘woman at risk’,” said Ms. Erskine. “Her sons refused to join the military, so they will be killed if they go back.”

The Little Current group is well advanced and their family could arrive as soon as four weeks from now, while the Mindemoya and Manitowaning groups are not very far behind, noted Dr. Ben Quackenbush. “The Mindemoya group has chosen their family and are just waiting confirmation as to whether they are getting them. The Manitowaning group is in the process of choosing their family,” he said. “The Gore Bay group has had a meeting and there were about 20 interested people who came out. They will be setting the time for their next meeting sometime soon.”

According to Dr. Quackenbush, the families could arrive within one to four months of confirmation.

The possible short turnaround time has put the Little Current group under a little bit of pressure, primarily to find suitable housing for the family. “If someone out there has a house in Little Current large enough for a family of seven it would be wonderful if they could get in contact with us,” said Ms. Erskine. Dr. Quackenbush noted that the Mindemoya group has already secured a house for their family. “The people who sold us the house not only dropped their price a bit when they heard what we wanted the house for, but they also threw in a lot of their household items as well. The house is pretty much ready to go.”

A number of Little Current businesses have stepped up to offer support for employment for the family members, noted Ms. Erskine, “but we are encouraging people who have opportunities that might be suitable to let us know.”

While the Manitoulin refugee committees have been hesitant up to now in soliciting donations for the project, the infrastructure for that is now better defined. “People can either donate directly to the Mindemoya Missionary Church or, if they are more comfortable donating to their own church and having the church pass it on, that works fine as well,” said Dr. Quackenbush. “If people are not associated with a church, they can send their donations marked for the refugee program to the Mindemoya Missionary Church.”

Those interested in becoming involved can contact Dr. Quackenbush through the email manitoulinrefuge@gmail.com (note no hyphen) and he will pass the information onto the relevant committee.