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Sanctuary for Refugees

groupRefugees are a unique type of newcomer, and represent some differing needs and challenges than
the average newcomer to Perth and Huron Counties. Huron has government-funded Resettlement
Assistance Programs provided by the YMCA of Western Ontario and Perth County now has
programs provided by the Cambridge-Kitchener-Waterloo YMCA. Furthermore community
members in Goderich, Listowel, Stratford, Zurich, Exeter, St. Marys and other smaller
communities have all welcomed privately sponsored and blended visa refugees from Syria and
other countries, and have opened their doors to those seeking a safe place to live [1]. Between 2006
and 2016, Perth and Huron Counties welcomed approximately 100 and 85 refugees,
respectively [2].
Some of the challenges facing refugees are common to newcomers. For example, communication
can be difficult for newcomers as they become accustomed to using a new language. This may
be especially difficult for refugees, however, who came under circumstances that did not allow
them to properly prepare and learn a language ahead of time that would help them to function in
Canada. Translation resources are one of the biggest hurdles for refugee families. When
interpretation services are lacking, sponsors and community members have generously
volunteered their time to help translate while refugee families run errands and access social
services [3].
Transportation poses a challenge to refugee families, as well. Those living in urban centres such
as Stratford make use of public transit, but for the rest in Perth-Huron, public transit is not even
available as a potential solution. Some newcomers have been able to acquire a car, but others are
limited to carpooling or biking to work. Others continue to rely on the generosity of sponsors,
who may help refugees pick up groceries and get to appointments on time for over a year after
the refugees arrive. Though well received, this dependence on others and their schedules can be
frustrating and limiting for refugees [4].
Unfortunately, the challenges faced by refugees extend beyond language and transportation. For
many, the trauma of being forced to abandon home to start a new life in an unknown country can
take months or even years before the toll on mental health becomes apparent. Additionally,
Canadians tend to retreat to their homes during winter months, and participate in fewer social
activities. This seasonal isolation can be particularly difficult for refugees who are already
vulnerable to mental health issues. Although some resources are available, service providers
have expressed concern that the mental health of refugees is an issue that will need to be
addressed. Additionally, cultural stigma towards mental health can sometimes prevent refugees
from seeking appropriate help.
Because of these challenges and many others, the contributions of the greater community in
settling refugees has been essential. Specifically, church groups have been integral for
welcoming refugee families, with at least 11 churches having helped to settle refugee families
since 2015. Primarily, these groups have sponsored refugees from South Sudan and Syria [5].
But not all sponsorship groups are faith-based. Private sponsors have been a mix of faith-based
communities and non-religious volunteers, but refugee families do not need to be practising any

faith to receive sponsorship. For example, Stratford Welcomes Refugees is a community project
that was formed in 2015 with a mandate to fundraise for Syrian families. Fundraising for the
program has been a success, with community groups, churches and generous individuals raising
over $200,000 for the cause [6,7]. Considering the average Syrian refugee family has between 6-7
members, and requires $45,000 to settle for the first year, these funds are desperately needed and
well used.
But raising funds is just the start of settling refugees in Perth-Huron. Local employers are also
working with refugees to help provide long-term stability. Buddy systems with local employees,
in-house trainers and even hired interpreters on-site have are just some of the solutions that
employers are using to get refugees working [3].
Specifically, General Coach in Hensall and VisTech in Stratford have both hired significant
numbers of refugees to work in their factories. The experience has been highly positive for both
companies, whose work force is now comprised of 7-8% refugees, mostly from Syria [3]. These
employers spare no words of praise for their refugee workers, and are putting their money where
their mouths are. Buying bikes, arranging medical appointments, and offering help with
transportation are all examples of these employers doing what they can to ease the transition. The
message from employers is clear: they are grateful for their refugee employees, and will go
above and beyond to show their appreciation and support.
The refugee experience is a harrowing one, and represents an experience that is not faced by
most newcomers to Perth and Huron Counties. But many in the area are well aware of the
difficulties faced by refugees, and the community is working hard to welcome refugees to Perth-
Huron and give them a sense of welcoming and safety in their new community.
1. Map of Destination Communities and Service Provider Organizations, Government of
2. Census Data, 2016, Perth and Huron Counties
3. Discussions with employers
4. Discussions at Sustainable Huron, Kim Campbell, HR manager at VisTech
5. Information from Kathy Vassilakos, Stratford Welcomes Refugees
6. Rice, Steve (2016) “More Syrian families could be in city within months”
7. Wishart, Scott (2016) “Stratford Welcomes Refugees effort reaches 90 per cent of goal
after donation from St. James Anglican Church”

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