Refugee task force meeting turnout thrills organizers

Around 50 people get ready to hear a presentation at a Syrian Refugee Task Force meeting Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016 in Cornwall, Ont. A federal government worker explained the financial and time commitments for sponsoring a Syrian family. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – The chairman of the Cornwall Syrian Refugee Task Force was “thrilled” with the turnout for their first public information session.

Around 50 people turned up at the VIP Concourse at the Cornwall Civic Complex Wednesday afternoon – filling most of the meeting room – for the first of two sessions.

“You never know if there’s a level of interest so it really felt good to see how many people showed up,” Bernadette Clement told Cornwall Newswatch, following the meeting. “Everybody was very respectful and interested, so I liked that.”

Clement said she had “no idea” ahead of time what the turnout was going to be like because the event had no registration in order to make it a community meeting.

The get-together included a presentation by a representative from the federal government’s Refugee Sponsorship Training Program on the legalities and requirements to host a refugee family.

The time and dollar commitment is not small.

For example, a sponsor has to commit at least $21,200 for a year for a family of two or $27,000 for a family of four. That’s either through cash up front, a monthly income pledge or a combination of both.

Then there’s the time commitment. The sponsor has to coordinate all the needs for the new Canadian family – from a family doctor, to schooling, health cards, opening bank accounts and finding a job.

“The emphasis is on groups. You can’t do that on an alone basis. So you need to have groups of five or organizations because of that level of commitment for a year. So it’s not just the dollar amounts, it’s all of the other stuff you have to do,” Clement said.

Michael Doyle and Peter Cazaly of the Cornwall and District Refugee Settlement Committee are part of an Anglican-Catholic church group that has been planning since November to sponsor a refugee family.

“I thought it was really excellent … it’s a chance for the city to do an inventory and find out exactly who’s out there, what they’re doing and what’s available in the way of services and help,” Cazaly told CNW.

“We think we’ve got most of the basics covered (requirements) and are ready to welcome a family to Cornwall,” he said.

Cazaly was not surprised by the response to help. “I think we had a sense…we called a general meeting for anybody who wanted to help us on Dec. 12 and we got 45 people out, which was a great indication that there are people out there in the community who really want to help.”

Cornwall Syrian Refugee Task Force chairman Bernadette Clement, center, speaks with a couple attendees a a public meeting Wednesday Feb. 17, 2016 at the Cornwall Civic Complex. The task force is now gathering a list of resources available in the community should a Cornwall group become a successful sponsor. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)
Cornwall Syrian Refugee Task Force chairman Bernadette Clement, center, speaks with a couple attendees at a public meeting Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016 at the Cornwall Civic Complex. The task force is now gathering a list of resources available in the community should a Cornwall group become a successful sponsor. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

Attendees heard that the 25,000 Syrian refugees that are supposed to come by the Canada by the end of the month are already spoken for. This public meeting and organizing is in preparation for the Canadian government’s next wave of refugee arrivals.

Task force chairman Clement suggested the committee will now be in an “inventory stage” and more public consultation could be coming in the months ahead.

Cornwall Deputy Clerk Manon Levesque, who is also on the task force, is heading up an inventory of resources available, such as housing and furniture, that will be needed to welcome refugees to the city.

If you have resources, you’re asked to contact her at 613-930-2787 extension 2316 or email mlevesque@cornwall.ca

Another information session is being held at 6:30 p.m. tonight (Wednesday).

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