With heavy rain starting in the morning and thunderstorms projected to carry on throughout the day, I was forced to stay in Trois-Rivières. That actually worked out for the best, as I had even more time to sit down and talk with Maude Fontaine.
Maude works with SANA Trois-Rivières, a NGO which helps to welcome refugees to the community and ensure that their basic needs are met. I've put together some of the main points of the conversation:
1) What are the largest barriers that Syrian refugees face in Trois-Rivières?
Trois-Rivières has been particularly welcoming of refugees - Maude mentioned that the city hosts the greatest number of refugees per capita of any city in Quebec. That being said, an enormous barrier is language, as even though some Syrian refugees may speak English, very few speak French.
As expected, the majority of refugees head to urban centres such as Montreal, Trois-Rivières, and Quebec City, where a more multicultural make-up of the city creates a welcoming scene. However, certain more rural parts of Quebec, and indeed all of Canada, remain opposed to the government committing too many resources to Syrians and other refugees. Although this internal political debate is less intense in Canada when compared to other developed nations, we cannot pretend that it does not exist.
Little by little however, refugees are being integrated into Canadian society. This integration should not be thought of as following a cookie cutter model - certain refugees are able to work very soon after their arrival in Canada, while others are limited by the physical and emotional trauma they underwent through the crisis. Integration means understanding that each refugee is a unique case, and has to be treated as such.
2) Are we doing enough?
Canadians like Maude are doing incredible work to ensure that Syrians are able to receive support in Canada, but a large issue surrounds the lack of social focus on the Syrian refugee crisis. When comparing the attention given to the crisis in 2015 and the coverage Syrian refugees receive today, it is clear that Canadians have shifted their attention elsewhere.
This has had disastrous effects on organizations meant to help refugees, as the Canadian government has imposed budget cuts that limit the ability of such organizations to truly support refugee families. Without public attention, this crisis very easily moves into the background of our minds, even though Syrians are in just as much need today as they were in 2015 or 2011.
3) What additional resources do organizations like SANA need?
Beyond financial resources, Canadian groups fighting to raise awareness of the Syrian refugee crisis need the support of average Canadians. Be this through volunteering at a refugee centre, helping to sponsor a family, or actively seeking opportunities to welcome refugees in their community, Canadians need to become aware of a simple fact: if they don't get involved, then the issue fades from the Canadian public's and government's attention.
Syrian refugees are still in desperate situations and are in need of immediate aid. We cannot let ourselves fall into a cycle of caring for an issue only as long as news headlines carry it forward.
Please check out SANA at their Facebook page and website. A big thank you to Maude for taking the time to sit down with me, and for her support for Canadians for Syria - looking forward to collaborating soon!
If you'd like to learn more about ways to get involved, check out this list of amazing organizations in Canada which are directly helping Syrian refugee families. If you'd like to help sponsor the Beshmaf family with us, please consider donating here - we'll make sure that your support of this family creates a personal link that will change the way you look at the Syrian refugee crisis.