That’s thanks to the contributions of community members and Mount Allison university staff working together as part of the Sackville Refugee Response Coalition (SRRC).
The group was organized in 2015 in response to the ongoing violence in the Middle East and beyond. Chair Rev. John Perkin notes the famous image of the drowned refugee boy circulating at the time played a part in getting people to act.
“I think many people in Canada were moved by that image,” he says. “I spoke with a lot of people who were asking, ‘What can we do?’”
Starting in October of that year, they set what he thought was a “lofty” goal of $30,000 by that coming December. That turned out to be not at all unreasonable. Thanks to the generosity of the community, that goal was reached within 24 hours of fundraising. By the end of the month, it had reached $100,000 in contributions.
After some hurdles dealing with the government process, they managed to bring in their first family to Sackville at the end of July 2016. The second came in September. Both came from Syria, having spent time in refugee camps waiting for their sponsorship to be processed.
“There are millions of people in refugee camps around the world,” Perkin says, adding some refugees spend years in places never meant to be permanent residences.
The second family had almost given up on after waiting for word of their arrival, says Perkin, who adds they were told it could be upwards of a year before they could get to Canada.
“And then at the end of September we got an email, on a Friday morning, that said your family arrives Thursday,” he says. “But we were ready.”
Setting up the refugees with an apartment and furniture when they arrived that Thursday, the group then began to offer language training that persists to the present day.
“We hope they can be employable,” says Perkins.
Up next for the SRRC is a family coming in from Congo, currently staying in a Kenyan refugee camp. The central African country, formally known as Zaire, is subject to frequent unrest that makes life for its citizens dangerous and uncertain.
Perkin says they just received word that the family can be expected somewhere in the range of the next four to 10 weeks. After that, he says he thinks the group will stop to consider what its future might be, and whether they want to keep bringing in refugees or focus on supporting those they’ve already brought in.
“We’ll consider where do we go from here? Is this a good place for people to settle?” he explains. “Certainly the town has indicated it’s a welcoming place.”
Perkin says it will come down to whether the refugees are able to make a living here on their own. Legally, the group has a commitment to support them for a year after arrival, but he adds that won’t necessarily be the end of the help they provide.
While the group has faced a small amount of resistance and doubt from some locals, Perkin says the bringing together of townspeople, university workers, churches, and other elements of the town has been “incredibly rewarding”. He says that Sackville residents have been incredibly generous with their “outpouring” of support in the form of money, time, and household items.
“We’re doing this for other people, but I think we ended up doing this for ourselves too.”