Wellesley council agreed to spread awareness about the Syrian refugee crisis, but declined to make a financial contribution after a presentation from MCC on Tuesday night.
Mennonite Central Committee Ontario executive director Rick Cober Bauman addressed council, explaining the different ways neighboring townships and cities have been responding to the call for assistance.
“In one case a municipality is hosting a question and answer night on refugee sponsorship. So they’ll invite us in and then invite citizens, church groups, community groups, service groups, mosques, who might be interested in doing this but don’t have a good enough understanding of how it works, to come to a public meeting,” Cober Bauman said.
The Region of Waterloo donated $25,000 toward MCC’s humanitarian efforts in Syria. Kitchener also gave a financial contribution, with 75 per cent designated for MCC’s work in Syria and 25 per cent for resettlement of refugees locally.
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“This is a first for us to reach out to municipalities and invite municipalities where Mennonite Central Committee is somewhat present, to see if there’d be interest in promoting the refugee sponsorship as a way of showing welcome,” Cober Bauman said.
He said they’ve had a range of shows of support from financial donations to commitments to helping resettle refugees. One example is Stratford who chose not to put tax funds into it, but to raise new money and get citizens involved in being a welcoming community.
Mayor Joe Nowak had some questions after looking at the frequently asked questions (FAQ) poster provided to council.
“The amount of money to bring a family over here, we’re talking $25,000 give or take, I find that astonishing,” Mayor Nowak said.
Cober Bauman said people are asked to live pretty simply in that first year as a refugee in Canada. MCC estimates $27,000 for a family of four, which is meant to be basic living, food, and lodging.
MCC says the total annual settlement cost for a single refugee would be $12,600. Of that, $2,800 is a start-up cost, and $9,800 is a year of income support. That increases all the way up to $32,500 for a family of three adults and three children, with an additional $2,500 for each extra member.
“That’s the legal responsibility you have as a sponsor. Then the next year they are technically on their own,” Cober Bauman said.
He notes it’s not just a cold turkey split after 365 days. Typically the families have made connections and are supported in some ways for longer than the one year commitment.
Coun. Herb Neher didn’t support Wellesley donating money for the resettlement.
“I do have a problem with financial contribution because I believe that should be left up to the individuals because we have here thousands of groups, they all have noble causes and who do you say no to?” he said.
“I have no problem whatsoever with putting this on our website and indicating that you were here and allow the public to read it.”
Council decided to post in the township office the FAQ poster MCC has made about how Canadians can help Syrian refugees. Coun. Shelley Wagner also suggested talking to the local recreation boards about spreading the message.
This is similar to what another rural municipality is doing. Cober Bauman said another council he spoke to decided to link the MCC website through their website and advertise an information night being held in Kitchener for people and groups interested in sponsoring refugees.
“One municipality is taking on five families, not through the financing of the municipality. They’re simply facilitating a number of community groups and then the community groups are raising the funds and they’ll have to do the actual day to day sponsorship, walking alongside these families and helping them get settled,” Cober Bauman said.
A cargo container from MCC with more than 1,000 relief kits, along with hygiene kits and comforters, arrived in Latakia, Syria on Sept. 5 and was distributed. The kits are part of MCC’s S.O.S for Syria campaign, which helps families who have fled their homes.
The United Nations estimates more than 220,000 people have been killed, with another 1 million injured in the violence in Syria. More than 12.2 million need emergency humanitarian assistance.
The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) announced earlier this month the creation of the Syria Emergency Relief Fund which will match donations from individual Canadians toward relief efforts in Syria.
Those interested in helping out can visit
SOS for Syria.