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Family in refugee camp assisted by congregation and community

Elbow demonstrates heart for refugees.
Ron & Bonnie Jean
Ron and Bonnie Jean part of group responding to refugee crisis

ELBOW, SK -  A United Nations brief on June 17, 2022 reported that more than 100 million people have been forcibly displaced due to war, violence, persecution, and human rights abuses, noting this number has doubled within a decade. Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, warned that a global food crisis threatens to further accelerate displacement, and while he applauds the response in some regions, he says other crises remain underfunded. With the refugee situation worsening daily, a group in Elbow has set out on an ambitious plan to help a family begin a new life in Saskatchewan.

Ron Hundeby and Bonnie Jean Low are committee members at Bethel Lutheran Church working on refugee resettlement. “We heard about people who were oppressed and whose lives were threatened by a new political regime in their country,” Ron explained, “and we wondered if there was anything we could do to help.”

A global worker made the congregation aware of a family who needed help. Bonnie Jean explained, “Someone who knew them was keenly aware they were in trouble, and asked if we could do something for them.”

The family is large and includes grandparents, sons, daughters, spouses and grandchildren. Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Outlook is working at resettling eight of the family members while Bethel in Elbow will be looking after the needs of the other eleven.

Family faces pressure to leave refugee compound

The family faced a perilous situation and were evacuated to a refugee camp in United Arab Emirates with little more than a suitcase. They were offered housing for 90 days but have now been there more than nine months. “They are facing pressure to leave, and yet there is no where else for them to go,” Bonnie shared.

The committee has some contact with the family. “They are doing fairly well,” Ron indicated, “but they are very limited in what they can do. They don’t get much time outside. They can’t work and the kids can’t go to school.”

Since some of the family speak English, they are helping prepare the others. Bonnie Jean said, “They are trying to teach their own kids to some degree, so that the younger ones have some English when they arrive.”

It is uncertain how much time it could take to bring them to Canada. “There are always snags,” Ron indicated, saying the group wants to remain optimistic, yet realistic about timelines. “We’re all just waiting to see how long it is going to take for the whole process to be done. There are a number of government requirements that we are working through but we don’t know how quickly it will go, and that’s challenging from our perspective and of course for the family.”

Raising funds for refugees

As the committee moves through the required steps, they are also working on securing housing and coming up with the money that will be needed. “It’s huge,” Ron said of the financial obligation they are taking on. “We need about $130,000. It’s a challenge, but we have been really blessed with the way the funds are coming in.”

Most of the giving has come from within the congregation but they have received support from others including a woman and her daughter in Alberta who made jams and jellies to raise money. “They sent a cheque for over $300,” Ron said. “That’s pretty neat.”

Bonnie Jean welcomes community involvement. “We want the family to feel like the community is happy they are here, so we invite the community to be in on this with us from the beginning.”

Ron added, “It’s the heart of the congregation and community more than anything else that we think makes Elbow a good place to resettle the family. Longer term they may end up going to a bigger center in search of work and education but for the immediate situation if they can have a year to get their feet on the ground in this country I think Elbow will be a good place for them.”

Once the family arrives much needs to take place. Setting up bank accounts, helping with English and getting registered with government agencies will be important first tasks Bonnie Jean explained. “We will be supporting them in whatever they need to build their life here.”

Putting pressure on the government

Financial gifts to the Refugee Fund can be sent to the church treasurer at Box 121 Elbow. Tax deductible receipts will be issued. The committee also welcomes volunteers who can assist with transportation and education, as well as efforts of those interested in contacting their MP or Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Sean Fraser; Confederation Building, Suite 110 House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6; asking the government to expedite refugee applications. Bonnie Jean remarked, “Writing letters is helpful. If the government sees there’s a large contingency of voters pushing to speed up this process they are more likely to do something to respond.”

Ron and Bonnie Jean welcome questions and offers of assistance. They also invite everyone to a Car Show and BBQ fundraiser in the parking lot at Bethel Lutheran Church in Elbow on July 23.

Resettling refugees is a huge undertaking and one this group feels ready to take on. Ron said, “I’m the president of Bethel and I was just blown away by the support for this. It was just a thrill to see the heart of the people. We believe the community will welcome them and Elbow will be a great place for them to be.”