The Syrian Refugee crisis is a contentious issue both in Canada and abroad. Many are asking themselves what they can do to help the victims of this recent tragedy. The Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre believes they have can rally the community to help.
The Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre has been a long-standing member of the St. Catharines and Niagara community and has assisted in the successful migration of countless individuals from other countries. Jeff Burch, the executive director of the Niagara Folk Arts and a member of the board of directors for the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), explained their long term commitments to immigrants in the Niagara Region.
“Back in the 1960s and 70s, organizations that were newcomer groups came together to begin supporting immigrants who were coming into Canada and a lot of those organizations were called Folk Arts across the country,” said Burch. “Across Canada, it was a movement in the 60s and 70s so there are still agencies around Canada called Folk Arts Councils. We were formed in 1970.”
This commitment has led to numerous groups of people finding a new home in the Niagara Region. All thanks to the work of the Niagara Folk Arts. They specialize in the assisting of newcomers to Niagara.
“The Niagara Folk Arts is a settlement agency. We basically welcome newcomers to the Niagara community,” said Burch. “We offer a one stop shop for settlement services and we have offices in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls and we have services in Welland as well.”
The successful reintegration into a foreign community is difficult and, without the proper assistance, it can even become impossible. This is something that the Folk Arts constantly struggles against alongside the immigrants they are assisting through their various programs.
“Once refugees become resettled and people are permanent residents working towards their citizenship we provide language, counselling, job search, youth programs, child care services, and a whole range of settlement services to help newcomers integrate into the community,” said Burch.
This is a daunting task, but none the less, it’s a necessary one. Without the Niagara region’s welcoming nature to immigrants of various creeds and cultures, the area would not have developed into what it is today. The culture of our community is entirely built of the mixing of other cultures.
“Niagara has always been a very generous community,” said Burch. “Our community was built on immigration. If you look at the building of the Welland Canal for example, it was all immigrants that built it. Those immigrants started our wine industry. Everything that we have in Niagara is the result of immigration, so we have always been a community that valued that. The Folk Arts Festival here every year is the oldest running heritage festival in Canada. We have a proud history of welcoming newcomers in Niagara.”
It’s important to keep in mind that as the Syrian Crisis continues to develop, little is being done to allow refugees into Canada.
“Canada has always been known as a generous and welcoming country and when it comes to the suffering in the world, whether it’s been Vietnam or Kosovo, we have always stepped forward to do our part and more than our part. That’s what we should be doing now,” said Burch. “I think that there’s a lot of Canadians who want to do more. Its a matter of the government of Canada making that possible. So, we’re hopeful that the government will bring out measures to speed up the flow of refugees we are able to assist.”
Despite the currently slow trickling in of refugees from Syria, the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre is doing its best to prepare for the rush of refugees in need who will inevitably arrive. This poses many challenges to the Folk Arts since a lot goes into the reintegration of immigrants.
“What we’re primarily engaged with is trying to build capacity in our organization and the community so that when Syrian refugees start to flow into Canada we’ll be ready to accept them and provide services to help them,” said Burch. “At the moment, the flow of refugees is very slow, so we’re hopeful that the government of Canada will bring out measures to speed that up so that we can help as many people as possible. The situation is dire.”
In order to prepare for the oncoming wave of newcomers to Niagara, the Folk Arts is in need of support from the community more than ever. However, this is not something to be taken lightly. It is important to know that this is not the kind of problem that can be solved over night or forgotten about once it is removed from the media spotlight.
“This is a long term project,” said Burch. “We’re looking at years. Although this has been a media frenzy right now, the crisis is going to be drawn out and the efforts to assist are going to be over the course of a couple of years. It’s important for people to understand that right now we’re building capacity so that when Syrian refugees are able to come to Canada in greater numbers we’ll be ready to assist them. A private sponsorship is a one year commitment.”
For those interested in assisting the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre with their efforts to help integrate Syrian refugees into the Niagara community, there will be an information sessions at various locations across the Niagara Region where immigration experts will be available to answer any questions you may have. They have also established a refugee assistance fund and is collecting charitable donations from across the Niagara Region. Anyone looking to sponsor a refugee or get more information about what the Folk Arts is doing and how they can help should visit their website at folk-arts.ca.