Two weeks after their arrival in Canada, the Syrian family sponsored by the Meaford Refugee Welcome Group are settling in to their new home.
Cathy Miller, the pastor at Christ Anglican Church, and one of the main organizers of the group, said the family of six arrived in Meaford on February 15, having landed in Canada early that morning. Several people representing the committee went to Toronto to greet them and transport the family back to Meaford.
"We were notified the Thursday before that they would be landing on Sunday morning," Miller said. "It turned out to be Monday morning, but that's all right."
"We had a little group go down there and meet them at a hotel. They arrived at 3:30 a.m., and the government put them up at a hotel."
The family has been placed in a "very nice three bedroom home," Miller said, not far from the downtown area.
While the family, none of whom speak English, aren't quite ready to spend much time in public, they are settling in nicely as some of the paperwork involving their arrival gets taken care of. "It's hard to say how they're doing, because none of them speak English," she explained. "We've found some translators in town, such as Alex at Alex's Gas Bar, who speaks Syrian and Arabic, so that's been a real help."
"We've spent the first few days covering the basic legal things, like getting them an OHIP card," Miller said. The family was taken to Service Ontario to begin that process, which Miller mentioned isn't any different for them than anyone else.
They won't be assigned a doctor after receiving their cards, and will need to trundle off to the Emergency Department at the hospital for their basic health care, although they've already received some basic checkups.
"We really want the family to be warmly received in this community," Miller said. "We don't want people's noses out of joint around here because they can't find a family doctor, and they think they (the Syrian family) have jumped to the head of the line. It's not like that."
The family had been living in a one-room home for most of the past three years in Lebanon, as the father worked informally as a truck driver. "They weren't out on the street, but they did bounce back and forth a bit between Syria and Lebanon," said Miller.
The children didn't attend school during that time, meaning they're likely behind in their learning, Miller said, although that needs to be evaluated. The four children were scheduled to begin attending classes this week at St. Vincent-Euphrasia School.
"We don't have all the details, due to the translation difficulties. They're just thrilled to be here," she said. "They've been pretty much sticking to the house so far, because they don't know how to get around, really. I think they just need get more settled in, and as they get more comfortable, they'll get more involved."
English as a Second Language will begin shortly for the parents, Miller said.
"We've got to teach them how do some things, like using a debit card to go shopping. We're also putting the bills into their names, so they can start to establish a credit rating. The private sponsorship by the group is a parallel process to the federal government's efforts”, Miller explained. "I think sponsored refugees have a little more emotional support than government-sponsored refugees, because there's a whole group of people to help them. When you have that kind of community support and involvement, I think the odds of helping the family to be integrated into the community are better."
The group has raised approximately $30,000 so far for the family's needs, Miller said, with the federal government expected to provide another $15,000.
Those funds will go to support the family for the mandatory one-year period demanded of sponsors by government policy.