Opinion: Coming to a new country as a refugee can be overwhelming

Fort Erie Post

Rosemary Legge Fort Erie Post Thursday, January 19, 2023

Uprooting yourself from what is comfortable and known can be overwhelming and scary. Traversing the highways and byways, moving into a new home, changing careers, or other major changes can make the best of us feel stressed and uncertain. For many, these changes can be even more pronounced when they result from persecution, war, or other trauma.

At this moment, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, there are more than 100 million people displaced from their homes or countries. This is a staggering statistic and one that keeps rising.

More than 850 million people are facing high- or medium-intensity conflicts in 23 countries, according to the World Bank and UNHCR. These numbers may seem overwhelming and you may wonder how the people of Fort Erie factor into helping those caught up in this situation. The answer is through a network of organizations that come together to provide shelter and assistance to those coming to Canada to seek refugee status. The Fort Erie Multicultural Centre, its partners, and funding from the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, United Way Niagara, and Fort Erie Gaming help provide for the needs of such persons.

Providing for the needs of our newcomer community allows us to see the incredible beauty of our world. We can meet and help people such as Jackie and Alain, along with their five children. This family arrived in Canada on Oct. 27, 2017, as a family of five, with Jackie expecting baby number four. Upon arrival, Jackie and Alain told me they felt welcomed and safe because their immediate needs were being met, needs they did not even realize they would have. They found shelter in the FEMC transitional house, hygiene packages, toys and books provided by generous community donors, and settlement and educational assistance.

They both said they were met by good, supportive people who helped them to have faith that they would be able to navigate the refugee determination system and their new community. They believe that in Fort Erie, their family has found “their town,” filled with friendly, kind, and welcoming people.

Jackie, who owned a travel and tourism business, and Alain, a lawyer, have had to restart their professional and educational journeys in Canada since arriving from Rwanda but are optimistic that they will be able to be successful here. With assistance from FEMC and other organizations, they have both been able to return to school, with Jackie going through a PSW program and heading into the nursing program at Niagara College in the spring and Alain returning to school at Seneca College to be a law clerk. Their children are also excelling in school and participating in basketball, tennis, and travel soccer leagues, as well as finding many new friends both at school and in their neighbourhood.

Jackie and Alain admit that sometimes it is easy to look back and see all they left behind and become frustrated, knowing that starting over comes with many hurdles and a need for a lot of patience and perseverance. However, they, like many other newcomers, have been able to network through the FEMC community and their faith community at Bertie Church, volunteering as they are able and finding success one step at a time.

People such as Jackie, Alain, and countless others have found a place of safety in our community. It is a beautiful legacy that the people of Fort Erie have in welcoming home strangers and making them blessed friends and neighbours.

Rosemary Legge is a volunteer with the Fort Erie Multicultural Centre. She can be reached at rosemary.legge@gmail.com.