It is exciting that, in several Manitoulin Island communities, committed individuals are currently meeting in small groups with a view to hosting refugee families fleeing parts of the world where their safety is in peril because of civil strife. In all likelihood, there will be (at least) three such families among us and this could happen very soon.
Many people will remember that, about 35 years ago, St. Bernard’s Catholic parish in Little Current sponsored a Vietnamese refugee family from the aptly-named “boat people” cadre who were fleeing their homeland in the flimsiest of crafts, subject to harassment and intimidation by pirates. In the same way, refugees are currently leaving the chaos of their lives in war-torn Syria and Eritrea, among other nations, and are bobbing across the Mediterranean Sea to the closest safe haven.
As with the Vietnamese boat people of the late 1970s and early 1980s, modern-day refugees are also often subject to the bullying tactics of foreign government officials (in the countries they’re escaping through) and cruel opportunists who charge them more than they can afford in return for a hazardous boat ride.
It is almost certain that any refugee families who will find refuge in Manitoulin’s communities will have their own personal versions of these kinds of experiences so we must be prepared to demonstrate to them the personal safety that Canada, with its rule of law and Charter of Rights and Freedoms traditions, affords.
That is the very least that will be required of us.
Refugee sponsorships are a one-year commitment while these newcomers find their feet in our country and come to terms with a new language, social norms, new and different food, placing their children in our local schools and all the rest.
As much as possible, it is practical and useful for adult members of refugee families coming to live among us to be able to find employment. Besides the obvious advantage of having some income, workplace experiences are important in mastering a new language and in becoming socialized in a new country and culture.
The Little Current community offered the significant adult member of the Vietnamese boat family (their family name was Luong) work in a restaurant. As it happens, adults in a Syrian refugee family currently being sponsored in nearby Massey have also found employment in a restaurant there while their children are attending the local elementary school, a useful model for Manitoulin Island and its upcoming sponsorships.
There is no questions that finding employment for people who may not have much (or any) facility in the English language will be one of the difficult hurdles the sponsoring groups may have to face so resourceful thinking on this important topic must be a priority beginning right away.
One thoughtful person who has already been thinking about this has suggested that there could be hundreds of small jobs available locally in assisting elderly people who are still living in their own homes and who require a myriad of basic support services to enable them to continue to do so.
Such services, he suggested, would not only be of useful social benefit to the elderly people on the receiving end but would also be useful entry-level jobs for refugees while they gain their footing in a new homeland, giving them some income and social and workplace experiences in the process.
An obvious corollary to this line of thinking would be for the sponsoring groups to determine ways and means of transportation to and from the work available at seniors’ homes and these are precisely the sorts of challenges that will be faced and for which remedies will be found by people of good will.
This is just one example of the practical thinking in which people are already engaged on Manitoulin as we anticipate giving a home to, for a while, families from unimaginably difficult circumstances.
Please give these issues some thought. If you have ideas, especially concerning work opportunities, please pass them on to The Expositor Office by email to firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be forwarded to the hosting and settlement committees.