RAFT working to sponsor new refugee family in Kamloops, hopes to welcome more newcomers

Hopes to welcome refugees

A local organization that helps refugees settle in Kamloops has started the ball rolling for a new refugee family — the first such sponsorship in a number of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Refugees and Friends Together (RAFT) held its annual general meeting at Hills of Peace Lutheran Church on Saturday, at which board members and visitors heard updates about the organization and learned about the refugee settlement process.

Jane Gingrich, acting chair for Saturday’s AGM, said RAFT has been able to raise enough money to start the sponsorship process.

“We have a family of four that we're looking to begin the sponsorship process with, within the next two weeks,” Gingrich said, adding it could still take a year or perhaps two years before the family actually moves to Kamloops.

She said the lengthy process involves working together with the federal government, which must ensure organizations like RAFT have the financial capacity — a minimum of $45,000 — to help support a family before proceeding.

“Now it's a matter of us being vetted. … It's confirming that we are actually able to be a sponsorship for this family,” Gingrich said.

She said refugee settlement is an ongoing need in the world, but sponsorships tend to happen in waves.

“When there is a great need, such as we heard with the Syrian wave and the Ukrainian wave, in those cases, we tend to see people really wanting to put their financial support behind refugees — and then there’s a lot of money that comes in, and then we can sponsor many families,” Gingrich said.

She said RAFT sponsored about nine Syrian families in a brief amount of time.

During the pandemic, the federal government halted this type of refugee sponsorship program, but now opportunities are returning for communities.

“We are very much hoping that we can again have the support of Kamloops to bring in at least this one family,” Gingrich said, adding RAFT, which has operated in the city for about 50 years, hopes to have further sponsorships on a more regular, ongoing basis.

She said RAFT will need more volunteers for settlement teams, including people who are willing to be trained in trauma-informed connection and relationship building. Settlement teams help a family secure housing, navigate the city’s various systems and services, and help the newcomers make the transition to life in Kamloops.

Gingrich said once refugees do arrive, RAFT will be searching for connections to housing and welcoming, inclusive work environments — the two biggest hurdles people have once they arrive.

Fundraising efforts will also continue, as RAFT would like to keep welcoming more refugees to Kamloops.

Saturday’s AGM attendees heard from a panel of people, including a former international worker who processed refugee claims, representatives from Kamloops Immigrant Services, and a former RAFT settlement team member, who said it is a “privilege and honour” to work with refugees as they find their footing in the city.

“People in Kamloops are so generous and they want to give, and for me that was such a thrill was to connect the generosity of those people with that need that the newcomers had,” Gingrich said.

“It's rare to find those really tangible opportunities to help your community. You’re supporting one family, but through that, they're moving through a challenging transition.

"Working on a settlement team is really hard work, there’s lots of ups and downs. But at the end of the day, it’s really an honour to help someone through a transition like that.”

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