We arrived in time for the presentations in the Council Chambers but couldn't get in because it was full. The Jean Pigott Place outside, to which they relayed the speeches through loudspeakers, was also packed, but noisy, so it was hard to hear what was being said. There were many stalls where we could get information about local groups already helping refugees, and the Mayor announced a new initiative, putting potential sponsors in touch with resources: Refugee 613––the website has only just gone live, so has some teething problems at the moment. It is to be Ottawa's version of Lifeline Syria, a Toronto initiative.
The city is pooling its "wisdom and compassion," said the Mayor. 40 lawyers have apparently joined the University of Ottawa legal faculty's Refugee Support Program, willing to team up with potential sponsors and offer pro bono services. Law students such as Hélène, an admirable girl whom I'd met before, are lending a hand with the coordination. Maha, Nicola and Patrick also went to a forum with some of these volunteer lawyers after the main presentation, but I didn't stay for that part. United Way has created United for Refugees in order to help process people's donations and will subsidize Groups of Five, if these small sponsorship groups can't raise enough money by themselves. The local universities have already promised bursaries for incoming refugees who want to study here.
A lady called Lisa Taylor spoke, representing Refugee 613. She says this organisation will align people's efforts to help and will reduce duplication. We should inform them about what we need, tell them what we want to do, and they will make it happen.
A gentleman who was a refugee himself spoke next, thanking us for caring. Many people at the gathering were former refugees, who understand what's at stake.
Don Smith, chair of the refugee working group with the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa, briefly described the two kinds of refugees recognised by the Canadian government (the "Visa office referred" cases and the less urgent) and warned us that for every refugee family settled in Canada, another is turned away, so it can be a frustrating challenge. He urged us to work with Syrian family members already in Canada, if we possibly could.
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If only the world at large were like that.