So many of our new neighbours have untold stories. They have endured unthinkable heartbreak and loss.
Their very presence in our communities is a testament to human resilience. It is our responsibility here in Waterloo Region and beyond to give these newcomers a Warm Welcome to our community.
But right now, that welcome is dramatically different.
New arrivals of government assisted refugees were paused in March as borders closed in response to the pandemic. Some families were on route as that happened, facing the heartbreak of returning to the refugee camps. Thankfully, the borders have begun to reopen and we will be soon be able to help families once again.
For those who were able to arrive successfully, the pandemic and lockdown were yet another obstacle to overcome.
This was the situation for Ali*, who left Kenya after repeatedly encountering violence and trauma. He arrived in Canada in March 2020, and came to Reception House, much like many others we have served before.
But nobody could have predicted the chaos that would soon ensue.
On March 17, the government of Ontario implemented emergency orders and the province went into lockdown. Ali* and others like him living in our temporary accommodation in downtown Kitchener at the time were provided different living arrangements for health & safety reasons. Ali* remembers feeling very isolated at the time.
“It was very hard in that house,” he recalls. “Everything was completely new there.”
He notes Reception House staff did the best they could to assist him and make his time more comfortable. He was given invaluable information that was normally difficult to access in his language, like how to access local public transit.
“When I arrived in Canada [during the lockdown], everyone at Reception House was doing their part to help me,” he says. “They have always been there for me.”
“I am now living with some friends I consider family. I just feel so relieved.”
Ali* is not alone. There are many others like him. Can you imagine arriving in a strange country in the middle of the pandemic without the language, acutely aware of a crisis and the outpouring of urgent messages that you cannot understand? You face quarantine on arrival and even after that, the community continues to be hard to access. COVID-19 has inspired a shift to online/virtual education, health and community service resources, primarily available only in English. Health and safety rules change regularly. Without language and without the technological skills, it is deeply isolating for the newcomer families. Isolation has always been a major challenge for newcomers, and today it is doubly so.
These are our newest neighbours and a warm and safe welcome now means bridging the increasing gaps they face today, helping them adapt to a virtual world, and enabling them to build connection amidst the pandemic limitations.
*Name replaced to protect privacy
“Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us—except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale.”