By Lethbridge Herald on February 10, 2016.
The cityâ€™s population growth will be bolstered by more than 300 refugees this year. And with Lethbridge volunteers, organizations and agencies already on the job, officials say nearly half of those men, women and children will be here by the end of the month.
Refugees from war-torn Syria will be this yearâ€™s largest group, but immigration services director Sarah Amies says close to 70 could be coming from other countries where their lives may be in danger.
Lethbridge is on track to welcome about 240 government-assisted refugees this year, she reported during a press conference Wednesday. More than half â€” an estimated 144 people â€” are expected to arrive by the end of February.
The first community-sponsored families are already here, she added, with more arriving over the next few weeks.
â€œLethbridge Family Services is working around the clock to welcome Syrian refugees and ensure they have what they need to make a fresh start,â€ said Amies, responsible for LFS refugee and immigrant services programs.
â€œThis is possible because of the outstanding support that our agency has received from the community.â€
Hundreds of local volunteers have stepped forward to welcome refugees, mentor them, help them get oriented and introduce them to their own personal networks, she said. Lethbridge-area residents have also donated household items, clothing and cash to help families set up their new home.
Many groups and individuals have gone still further, said Anglican priest Erin Phillips. Local professionals, university personnel and members of several Anglican churches welcomed their first â€œprivately sponsoredâ€ family a few days ago, she said.
â€œTheyâ€™re adjusting to life here, and just embracing it,â€ she reported.
Earlier, members of Mennonite and United Church congregations in Lethbridge and Coaldale welcomed the cityâ€™s first community-sponsored family â€” now working to learn English.
â€œIt is truly inspiring to witness this tremendous community effort,â€ said Mayor Chris Spearman. â€œLethbridge can be proud of the fact our co-ordinated effort to welcome Syrian refugees is a model for other communities,â€ he added. â€œThis is the right thing for us to do as a compassionate, inclusive, welcoming community.â€
As a member of the steering committee thatâ€™s co-ordinating local agenciesâ€™ services for refugees, the mayor said heâ€™ll also be keeping provincial and federal officials aware of issues or needs as they arise.
â€œFinding appropriate and affordable housing may be a recurring challenge,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™ve already begun working to have that addressed.â€
The federal governmentâ€™s grant for refugeesâ€™ accommodation must be increased, Spearman added.
â€œThey canâ€™t spend all their money on housing.â€
The Lethbridge Housing Authority, the two Lethbridge school boards and Alberta Health Services are among nearly 20 agencies represented on the steering committee. Vivien Suttorp, AHS medical officer of health for southern Alberta, said refugees are screened for any illnesses before coming to Canada, and more of the people arriving here are in relatively good health.
Family physicians are welcoming them to their practice, she added, and local dentists are dealing with fillings that werenâ€™t available in refugee camps.
â€œWeâ€™re also reviewing their immunizations,â€ Suttorp said.
And already, she said, some newcomers are expressing an interest in Albertaâ€™s smoking cessation programs.
After years in a refugee camp, Suttorp said, some family members may experience mental health issues as they adjust to a new life. But Albertansâ€™ efforts at welcoming them here could counterbalance the effects of that trauma.
Lethbridge schools will soon be welcoming Syrian refugees as well, Amies said. But first, most of the new arrivals are taking part in daily orientation sessions for children and adults.
About 65 per cent of the refugees here are school-aged, she said. Lethbridge schools are preparing to welcome them.
With such a high level of collaboration between the cityâ€™s many agencies, she added, resettlement is going smoothly and everyday Lethbridge citizens have been kept informed.
â€œThe community has not been left unaware of whatâ€™s going on,â€ and many residents have responded with open arms.