The first Syrian refugee family to arrive in Terrace is expected to start settling into their new home in the coming days.
The family-of-five is being sponsored by a group of Terrace residents who have been raising money since last year to support them.
Three months after they applied to the Canadian government, the group finally received confirmation last week that the family was on their way.
“It’s very exciting and we’re looking forward to them being here,” said Margot van Kleeck, a member of the sponsorship group, speaking last Friday.
“I have no idea whether they speak some English, if they are savvy with technology . . . so we’ll just let them lead and help them however they need.”
Since fleeing an unnamed Syrian city, the family has been living in Lebanon with their three children ages 4, 5 and 7.
The federal government arranged travel for the refugees to Terrace at which point the sponsoring group will greet them at the airport.
The sponsors, called a ‘Group of Five’ under federal terminology associated with bringing in refugees, must support the family at a cost of $27,000 during their first year in Canada.
“We are responsible for them financially and for all social supports so we’ll be helping them meet people and helping them get out in the community and whatever else they need to do,” explained van Kleeck.
“We want them to lead that process. It’s a bit late to get the children in school, so I think that won’t happen. Learning english is, of course, the priority and just getting to understand the community, how to go about, how to walk to the schools, the playgrounds, the stores,” she added.
The group has already furnished and stocked a suite for the family to move into.
A second sponsorship group, also termed a ‘Group of Five’, has been matched with a family and are waiting to find out their arrival date.
Additionally, both the Terrace Evangelical Free Church and the Christian Reformed Church in Terrace are applying to privately sponsor two more refugee families from Syria and Iraq.
Though many residents here are likely eager to welcome the newcomers, Sasa Loggin of the Skeena Diversity Centre recommends that people give the family arriving this week some space while they adjust.
“We are really playing it more by ear because this is not a regular immigration, so we have to be sensitive to that,” Loggin said.
“This is not about us, it is about a family that has gone through a lot and is coming to a strange place,” she noted.
If this first family agrees, Loggin said local supporters may plan to do a larger, formal welcome sometime down the road.
Since stepping up to aid refugees last year, volunteers have undertaken a fundraising campaign and have been looking for accommodation to house refugee families.
This family will be moving into a suite secured at a discounted rate and stocked with help from the community.
“There was a family that came and donated a whole bunch of staples and then we’ll go out to make sure they have fresh food for when they arrive,” mentioned van Kleeck.
The group also received furniture from Rio Tinto when it began dismantling a construction camp that formed part of its now-finished smelter modernization project at Kitimat.
“They’ve donated so much, the home is going to look very welcoming,” she said.
Despite the efforts of the sponsorship group, it is likely that the family will face an adjustment period in the initial months after their arrival.
Former Terrace resident and Syrian-Canadian Samia Madwar, who grew up in Syria and held a workshop about her experience there at the Skeena Diversity Centre in preparation for the families’ arrival, says the refugees will have to learn new things no matter their background.
She encourages people to be patient through the transition.
“For a lot of these people, it is really going to be a major shock and to get through that it might take a while, so just understanding that and appreciating that,” she said.
“There were little things I had to learn, like the geography of Canada, just understanding the country. Syrian curriculum definitely doesn’t teach that.
“For a lot of Syrian refugees coming in, they’re going to be struggling with understanding where everything is and where they are, especially if they are coming to Terrace,” she continued.
Though this family is coming from a Syrian city, she says there will likely be many more amenities here than they are used to.
“It’s a smaller city, but at the same time, they’re going to have access to a lot of things that they wouldn’t have access to in Syria just because the government had put restrictions on certain products and items,” she explained.
“And the grocery stores, there’s nothing like that in most of Syria, they have little shops.”
Those interested in assisting the groups are encouraged to make a donation through the Northern Savings Credit Union to the ‘Refugee Sponsorship Account.’