Community coalition welcomes refugees to town

In July, Sackville welcomed its first sponsored refugee family to the community, thanks to the Sackville Refugee Response Coalition (SRRC). The SRRC was formed last fall in response to the refugee crisis in Syria, and by January, the coalition had raised over $100,000. For their efforts, members of the SRRC were named Sackville Citizens of the Year in an announcement at last week’s Fall Fair.

After a public meeting last September, a steering committee was formed to spearhead the initiative. John Perkin, Mount Allison’s chaplain, chairs the Coalition.

Perkin said the success of the Coalition has to do with the nature of the Sackville community. “I’m really humbled to be part of this,” he said. “We’ve had round figures of around 150 volunteers in our database, but that doesn’t even include everyone who’s helped out.”

Those involved range from students, to university administrators and staff, to community groups and individual citizens. “It has been a real cooperative venture from a whole variety of sources,” he said. Various subcommittees were struck, with jurisdictions such as finances, fundraising and communications, and drew on strengths from many community members.

Second-year student Keith Nicholson sits on the steering committee. His experience with the SRRC was one of his first impressions of the community in Sackville. Nicholson said the support the Coalition received, both monetarily and volunteer-wise, was overwhelming. “It is such a great feeling to come to a community that is so welcoming and has so much support,” Nicholson said.

Diverse group of sackville community members. SRRC/Submitted
Diverse group of sackville community members. SRRC/Submitted

The first sponsored family – Nezar Hussein, Aisha Ibrahim, and their infant son Kassem – arrived in Sackville at the end of July from Lebanon, where they had taken refuge after fleeing the Syrian civil war.

Perkin said the family is settling in very well, are enthusiastic to learn English and are being embraced by the community. “It’s been a joy to watch that process,” Perkin said. “Their baby is Sackville’s baby in many ways.”

The family has been in Sackville for two months and the Coalition has only encountered minor issues while settling them in, Perkin said. “Compared to some other towns, we seem to have had far fewer issues or difficulties.” The SRRC has been a resource for other groups hoping to sponsor refugees.

Colin Robertson, president of the Rotaract Club at Mt. A, said the scale, not the efforts, of the fundraising success surprised him. “That’s a lot of money for a town that has as many economic challenges as Sackville does,” Robertson said.

Partnering with church organizations in town allowed the Coalition to speed up the process of sponsorship, said Perkin. This was facilitated by a specific sponsorship agreement with the government, which churches already possess.

Bill Evans, a Sackville town councillor who also sat on the SRRC steering committee, said he was impressed by how diverse yet cohesive the Coalition was.

“These people were all trying to do some good for other people,” Evans said. “[The organization] was a wonderful reflection of a good community, but was also the creation of a new community.”

On Monday, the SRRC announced that the second family, a couple from Syria who have been taking refuge in Turkey, will arrive next week. The SRRC is also waiting to hear news of the Congolese family they are sponsoring. The family was supposed to arrive this summer.

Perkin said awareness campaigns represent another important effort by the Coalition. “We all know the Syrian crisis – we may not know the ins and outs of that – but probably very few people know of the Congolese crisis at all.”

As for the Coalition’s future, nothing is set in stone.

“There is an organizational framework that has been laid for the future,” said Robertson. “We now have an understanding of our potential.”

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