It takes a community (to welcome a family)

pledgesSomewhere in Lebanon, a Syrian refugee couple with four young children is waiting to come to Ottawa. They might be filling out paperwork at this very moment. Certainly, paperwork is one of the things occupying Robert Taylor, a steering committee member of the Old Ottawa South Committee for Refugee Sponsorship. He and the five other steering committee members are busy filling out forms and pulling together resources to make sure the community is ready to welcome the refugee family this winter.

We don’t know much about the family yet — not even their names. We do know that the husband and wife have three boys — two six-year-olds and a five-year-old — as well as a two-year-old girl. We know that they’ve been interviewed by the Canadian visa office in Beirut, Lebanon, and cleared to come to Canada. We know that they speak Arabic, but don’t speak either English or French. We can assume that they’ll need some support as they settle in to life in Canada, and that’s where the Old Ottawa South Committee for Refugee Sponsorship comes in.

When the Committee originally formed in the spring of 2015, the bureaucratic process of sponsoring a refugee was much more onerous. To help speed the process, the committee decided to work through the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa (which had already obtained pre-clearance from the Canadian government) even though the committee itself is ecumenical and includes members from the Anglican and United Churches, Quakers, and Muslims, as well as people with no religious affiliation. Even working through the diocese, Robert was told he could expect to spend 100 hours on paperwork.

But since the new government has committed to expediting the processing of Syrian refugees, the paperwork has been cut down, and Robert says it’s quite straightforward. Once transportation logistics are worked out, he expects the family to arrive early in the new year.

Through the process known as “Blended Visa Office Referral” the committee will be responsible for half the costs of necessities for the family’s first year in Ottawa — including housing, clothing, food and transport — while the federal government will be responsible for the other half. The total costs for the year are expected to be around $40,000, and the committee has raised about $45,000, thanks to the generosity of residents of Old Ottawa South.

Meanwhile, the search is on for a place for the family to live — ideally an apartment in Old Ottawa South, at least for the first little while. There are warm winter clothes to be collected and volunteer translators to be recruited. Lots of people from Old Ottawa South are pitching in to help and the committee is always looking for more people to get involved. (The committee can be reached at

Follow this blog as we trace the journey of volunteers in our neighbourhood coming together with a Syrian family to pursue a new life in Canada.

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