Choosing refugees to help a heart-wrenching process for WK group

“...a really tough thing for our group and finally deciding since we can't sponsor them all, we have to pick one.” ~ Jan Micklethwaite

So many people, each with a heartbreaking story, each hoping for a better life.

That makes choosing a person or family one of the most difficult decisions a sponsorship group must face, says Jan Micklethwaite from the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees.

“It’s horrible to look at list upon list of people, and with each there’s a little story,” she said. “It’s been a really tough thing for our group and finally deciding since we can’t sponsor them all, we have to pick one.”

Earlier this year, the Rossland group reviewed the official refugee list of people applying for Permanent Residency in Canada through the UN High Commission for Refugees.

At the time, the Canadian government considered the Syrian refugee crisis a priority, says Micklethwaite.

“They said they were really hoping the sponsoring groups would consider Syria – and we did,” she explained. “But we also considered everyone else. We all feel for the Syrians emergency situation, but they are not the only ones needing help.”

It was during that process, the group first learned about the plight of people in Eritrea, which is a very small country in the Horn of Africa.

“After two years of investigation, the United Nations put out a press release on June 26,” explained Micklethwaite. “At this point, 5,000 people per month and 400,000 people have escaped the country in the last six years. The country is second only to the Syrian situation in terms of people trying to leave an untenable situation in their own country.”

Another factor for decision-making was where the family was living.

“The first family we sponsored had been in a Malaysia refugee camp for nine years,” said Micklethwaite. “The conditions are appalling, and it seems once people reach a refugee camp they never get out. So those are the people that really need to be considered – they have been refugees for so many years and no one has paid any attention to them.”

The Rossland group recently welcomed its second sponsored family to their city – a young Eritrean mother and her two young sons.

They selected Ruta Zaharias and her sons Eyobed and Yonathan,for many reasons.

After fleeing Eritrea when Ruta’s husband disappeared, the three had been living in a Cairo refugee camp for almost two years.

“A single mom with two young children in a vulnerable situation – that was a priority to us, ” Micklethwaite added.

While the Rossland sponsors are sensitive to the Syrian crisis currently dominating the headlines, money has to be raised before they can help another family.

“The funds we have raised are committed to this family we just brought in,” says Micklethwaite. “We will be doing some fundraising. And we are hoping these stories will let local people know they can sponsor a local group and perhaps make a contribution through our website.”

For information about the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees and to make a donation, call Micklethwaite at 250.362.5289 or visit

The province addressed the Syrian refugee crisis Tuesday by announcing a $1 million one-time investment to help Syrian refugees settle in B.C.

Funding is intended to complement existing provincial and federal support services for refugees, as well as enhance resources for private sponsors.

Through blended sponsorship with the government, the West Kootenay group brought the two families to Rossland after raising about $30,000.

“They (government) pay part of the costs and we pay part of the costs,” explained Micklethwaite. “They suggest (group) sponsors raise $20,000 minimum to bring over a family. But with the need there is now, I don’t think that is a necessary number.”

Finally, Micklethwaite says there’s nothing special about the Rossland group – anyone can sponsor a refugee.

“It’s just a matter of once people know what’s going on, it’s pretty hard to ignore it.”

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