City rallies around refugees

They had invited about 70. More than 100 showed up.

They had invited about 70. More than 100 showed up.

A stakeholders meeting on Tuesday brought together organizers, agencies and other groups wanting to help bring Syrian refugees to Red Deer.

As many as 200 refugees could come to Red Deer in the next three months.

Remza Mujezinovic, program supervisor for Catholic Social Services (CSS) Immigration and Settlement in Red Deer, said Wednesday she is really happy with the Red Deer’s response.

“We have been receiving so many calls from the community. It’s really overwhelming. It’s so great. And I think we counted around 70 people (invited), but more than 100 showed up. People who we didn’t invite wanted to come.”

The three-hour meeting at the Red Deer Lodge, organized by CSS, included landlords such as Red Deer Housing, and representatives from such groups as the food bank, Alberta Health Services, City of Red Deer, churches, public and separate school divisions, Women’s Outreach, the women’s shelter, the adult learning centre, Red Deer Public library and more.

“How can we pool this and help the refugees who are going to come at Red Deer?” said Mujezinovic.

CSS has had a contract from many years now to bring government-sponsored refugees to Red Deer. There will also be privately-sponsored refugees. A lawyer has volunteered to help those who want to undertake private sponsorships, Mujezinovic said.

Some of the areas CSS focuses on when helping refugees settle include permanent housing, health needs, orientation to the community, and education for children, youth and adults.

Also on Tuesday the federal government announced that they have eased back on bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by Dec. 31 in order to allow enough time for security pre-screening.

They will now bring 10,000 by that date and the remainder will come by the end of February.

While CSS is not responsible for security screening, Mujezinovic said CSS did discuss it, explaining how it will be done. “So I think it made people feel a little bit more comfortable.”

Mujezinovic said although they are calculating for 200, she still does not know for sure how many refugees will be coming to Red Deer, the size of the families or exactly when they will arrive.

After that meeting, she said “The feeling we got was we are all on the same page. … We had so many experts in the room, and they dedicated their expertise and their time.”

“Not only me but the whole staff felt we are all together and the community response is just great and they are offering any kind of help.”

They have two main concerns right now — housing and the need for more Arabic-speaking volunteers.

Housing is a huge issue, largely because the funding allowance for government-sponsored refugees is very limited. They are hoping the government provides more funding for housing, Mujezinovic said.

“That’s the area that concerns us more than anything else. … Rents are extremely high and they are not coming down.”

The refugees will be housed in commercial accommodation for the first 19 days while permanent housing is sought.

A refugee herself, from Bosnia 21 years ago, Mujezinovic said these are exciting times.

“There’s lots of work to do … but I’m very confident that with our team and the community, we will be able to be ready.”

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