November 24, 2015 - 8:30 AM
VERNON - A group of community organizations, local residents and faith groups are coming together with a common vision — welcoming refugees and settling them in the North Okanagan.
The recently created North Okanagan Refugee Committee is already mobilizing to bring international refugee families to the area.
“It is important that refugees are welcomed, supported and empowered to rebuild their lives,” Annette Sharkey, with the social planning council, says.
The group was formed as a response to the Syrian refugee crisis, but welcomes refugees from around the world. Sponsors such as the East Hill Community Church have helped bring people from other countries to Vernon in previous years.
“Our experience has been profound as we support people from many cultures, backgrounds and faiths to rebuild their lives and make Vernon their home,” church representative Jake Spoor says.
Carol Wutzke of Vernon and District Immigrant Services says they have successfully supported many refugees over the years.
“Many of these families have stayed in the area and are working for local businesses, raising their children and giving back to our community,” Wutzke says.
Given the recent attack in Paris, the committee has spent time researching the security measures put in place for screening refugees coming to Canada and are reassured by the facts, Sharkey says, noting both the head of the RCMP and the director of CSIS have stated Syrian refugees can be brought into the country without compromising safety.
“By giving into fear (we) lose a critical battle in the struggle against terrorism,” Sharkey says.
The committee welcomes residents to get more involved and be a part of the support system for refugees in the community. A website has been launched to provide more details including information on the sponsorship process, a list of local sponsoring agencies, how to donate both locally and internationally, and where to sign up to volunteer, for once refugee families arrive.
The City of Vernon has had some preliminary discussions with the province about the possibility of taking in refugees, but Mayor Akbal Mund says nothing has been determined.
Groups are rallying to support refugees across the Okanagan, and at least one Syrian family is already adjusting to life in Kelowna.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015