Let's help refugees embrace Canada



by Candice Malcolm

Toronto Sun
March 11, 2016

Going camping or attending a summer camp is a quintessential Canadian experience. Kids get to explore the great outdoors, learn important skills, meet new friends and make lasting memories.

But juxtapose the happy Canadian summer camp experience with that of newly arriving Syrian refugees.

When Syrian children think of camp, they likely think about the United Nations refugee camps that have been set up for those fleeing a civil war. Over four million Syrian refugees now live in these makeshift camps, and in many cases, the living conditions are miserable and dangerous.

But a group of Canadians are working to change the way some of these Syrians – particularly Syrian girls – think about camps. Thanks to a generous new initiative, some Syrian girls will have the chance to attend an authentic Canadian summer camp this year, free of charge.

The Glen Bernard Camp near Algonquin Park in Ontario has been operating a girls-only summer camp for 95 years. This year, to celebrate their anniversary and to welcome Syrian newcomers, the camp has announced it will sponsor a few dozen Syrian girls, aged 11 to 13, to attend the camp this summer. All costs will be covered, including registration fees, equipment and supplies.

“We're so proud to be able to play a role in helping build a new life for these newcomers," said Jocelyn Palm, owner of Glen Bernard Camp and Order of Canada recipient.

It is an admirable initiative, and hopefully one that will be replicated across the country. There is no better way for young women to make friends and gain confidence than attending a camp like Glen Bernard.

Regardless of what you think about the Trudeau government’s Syrian refugee policy, or the many blunders the government has faced in meeting its election promise, it’s now up to Canadians to take over and help these Syrian newcomers settle in.

This is especially true given that the government’s own refugee agencies have asked Trudeau to hit the pause button. These resettlement groups are so overwhelmed by the sheer number of refugees coming into Canada, they are failing to provide important services that help newcomers adjust to life in Canada.

But it’s the private sector – charities, churches, businesses and individuals – not the Trudeau government that has stepped up to help.

Everyday Canadians are taking over where the government has failed.

A good immigration policy relies on integration and engagement, and it’s up to all of us to make sure newcomers to Canada feel welcome.

If refugees and immigrants are ignored and left to form isolated communities, it can cause long-term damages for everyone. This has occurred in Canada in the past, and continues to create problems in cities across Europe.

Canada should learn from past mistakes, and work hard to engage all newcomers, both new and old, whether they are Syrian, Somali, or South American.

We can be critical of government policy, but when it comes to welcoming refugees to our communities, we should do what we can to help these newcomers cope with the challenges of moving to a new country.

The more we engage and welcome new immigrants, the more they will understand what it means to be Canadian, and feel part of the Canadian family.

That’s why it’s our job to welcome Syrian refugees into our communities and help them integrate into Canadian life. The folks at Glen Bernard summer camp are doing their part, and we should all follow their lead.

Image credit: Photo Credit: The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz

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