Small-town Canada opening its arms to refugees

February 10, 2016

By Wendy Stueck, Globe and Mail |

Over the past eight years, there were times when the congregation of the Faith Reformed Church of Telkwa thought of giving up on its plans to bring a refugee family from the Democratic Republic of Congo to northern B.C.

Last week, however, those doubts were forgotten amid tears and hugs as the Tezolo family – a mother, father and seven children – were welcomed to Smithers. In the crowd were members of another Congolese family who’d been sponsored by a different Smithers church several years ago.

Now, as the Tezolos are settling in to their newly adopted town of about 5,500 people, a community-sponsored Syrian refugee family arrived this week and another Syrian family is expected to follow later in the month.

“They’re finally in a place where they can have a good life,” church pastor James Folkerts said in a telephone interview the day after the Tezolos arrived.

The flurry of arrivals in Smithers comes as refugee settlement officials in major Canadian cities, including Vancouver, are scrambling to find suitable housing for government-assisted Syrian refugees, including families with four or more children. And it raises the question of whether small towns could be just as suitable – or better – places for refugees to land.

The Faith Reformed Church had sponsored a refugee family from Cambodia in the 1980s and started looking into sponsoring another family nearly a decade ago.

From the beginning, the church wanted to sponsor a family. The process, through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, was long and complicated. At one point the church weighed whether to give up, deciding instead to pepper government officials with calls and e-mails. Just before Christmas, Mr. Folkerts heard the family was coming, resulting in a scramble to arrange housing before they arrived.

The Tezolos can expect a warm welcome to a diverse community, says Smithers mayor Taylor Bachrach.

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