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Welcoming Refugee Families: "An enriching experience in line with our mission"

A year ago, in May 2016, the first Syrian refugee family (the Allaham family), sponsored by a group of individuals and organizations from the Diocese of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, including Chemins de Vie and the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, arrived. In February 2017, a second family, the Alhanout family, who were sponsored by the same group, also arrived.

The experience during the first months of preparation, from the never-ending wait until the arrival, was encouraging for all those involved from near and far, according to Sister Denise Riel, Provincial Animator of Quebec SNJMs. There were many gestures of solidarity both within the sponsorship group and among the Sisters. These gestures were so necessary especially after the mishap of a fire that completely destroyed the apartment of the young Syrian family, a few weeks after their arrival.

Fortunately, the sponsorship group had already collected all the furniture and accessories for the second family of refugees. To the great relief of the young family, they were immediately able to address their needs. The following months were taken up by all the administrative procedures related to obtaining papers, including the health insurance card, familiarization with their living milieu and learning French.

The integration phase

A year later, the little girl Mewra already speaks French very well, while the mother, Miray Alfreeh is continuing her lessons to increase her knowledge of French. Pregnant, and due to give birth in the middle of summer, she hopes to be able improve her mastery of the French language so as to enter the workforce as an English teacher.

Wanting to quickly assume his responsibilities, aware that the financial assistance from the group is only available for 12 months, the husband, Mousa, a trained cabinet-maker, found a job in a wood factory in Montreal. He is, in one way or another, continuing to learn French from the events of daily life, recognizing the importance of learning the language of his adopted country.

"The Quebec Sisters have been involved since the first steps of the project," stated Sister Denise Riel. "One Sister gave French lessons at home, others contributed by offering their services and by being available to respond to the needs or to facilitate integration into the milieu, as did the other members of the sponsorship group."


A second refugee family

Although the waiting period for the second family was long, the first few months of the integration of the Alhanout family consisting of four adults (Elias, Antoinette, Marcel (Marvel) and Michel (Majed), two boys aged 18 and 21) took place without incident.

A Melkite Catholic priest, the father speaks French while the mother speaks only Arabic. The two boys know English, and their priority is to learn French quickly. Unfortunately, enrollment in French language courses involves delays that seem lengthy for those who want to be immersed in the language of Molière.

Located in Longueuil, close to services and public transport, this very dedicated family, is striving to discover its new milieu, to learn the traditions and customs and to take all the necessary administrative procedures. Having no family in Canada, the involvement of the sponsorship group is vital and greatly appreciated.

An enriching experience

"The generosity of the members of the group, both in time and money, must be emphasized" says Sister Denise. Direct involvement in the real lives of these refugee families broadens everyone’s horizon. "It's a mutual enrichment. They bring us as much by their resilience as by their history and their presence."

In any event, the challenge is to prevent these families from withdrawing into a ghetto. We better understand the importance of the role of the sponsorship group which, through its availability, passion, generosity and determination, provides support in a real spirit of solidarity.

For the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM), this collaboration was a matter of course. "Being attentive to life and the events that take place helps us stay focused on the mission until it’s accomplished," says Sister Denise Riel. "Our involvement with these two families is in line with our corporate stand in favor of migrants and refugees."

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