It's official—Fort Frances' newest residents should be here late next week.
The refugee family from Iraq is set to arrive in Thunder Bay on Thursday, Nov. 16, then be driven here to their new home the following day.
“They're really excited to be coming," Kathy Mueller of the "Families for Families” committee told the Times yesterday.
With the help of an interpreter named Imad, Mueller said she spoke with the family of six—consisting of a father, mother, a teen daughter, and three sons—over the Internet via Facetime last Thursday.
Mueller explained the father, Bashar, and the rest of the family speak Arabic. But with the help of Imad, she learned the family “was very grateful and very excited to finally be coming.”
The family will stay with Imad, also a former refugee from Iraq and who has become a good friend of Bashar, and his family for a day in Thunder Bay to give them a little time to “acclimatize” to Canada with someone who also speaks Arabic.
“I can't imagine going to a country halfway around the world and then getting there and not being able to talk to anybody,” Mueller reasoned.
She and Imad then will drive Bashar and the family to Fort Frances.
The family has been living in an apartment in Lebanon and thankfully not in a refugee camp, Mueller noted.
But she expects it will take them a while to adjust to life in Canada, and more specifically, Fort Frances in wintertime, nonetheless.
As previously reported, the “Families for Families” committee has arranged for an apartment for the family that is centrally located, so it is close to Safeway, the Memorial Sports Centre, churches, the clinic, and other amenities.
The apartment not only is newly-renovated but stocked with household items the family would need.
But the family still will need food and clothing, said Mueller.
“When they arrive, we'll have to go and get them some winter outerwear,” she noted.
While in Thunder Bay last week, Mueller met with a representative from the Diocesan Office of Refugee Services (DOORS) and went grocery shopping with Imad to get items the family would like but are not available in Fort Frances.
“It was very interesting because his wife made a grocery list and it was all in Arabic,” remarked Mueller.
“I thought, 'Oh my gosh.' But that's what it will be like for them when they see our alphabet.”
In order to give the new family time to adjust, Mueller noted there are no immediate plans for a “welcome” party here.
“The Respect committee was going to plan a sort of welcome party for them, for the town, but then we heard that [refugees] can be a little bit shy,” said Mueller.
“They don't know what's going on, they don't understand the language,” she reasoned.
“I think we'll wait a little bit and see how that goes," Mueller added. "We don't want to overwhelm them.”
But she did offer some advice to local residents who might meet Bashar and his family once they arrive.
“If people see them out and about, just say, 'Hello' and 'Welcome,' and that's enough,” Mueller said.
“They're not used to handshakes and hugs like we are. It's not in their culture,” she added.
“But Imad has already told them to expect to be hugged. So that's good.”
Mueller said the community has been very generous over the past two years, and “Families for Families” is not asking for more help.
But if people want to do something more for the family, especially with various organizations doing Christmas charity drives in the near future, donations of gift cards for Safeway for food, for example, would be most welcome.
After all, they're a family of six and “on a pretty limited budget,” Mueller conceded.
To donate, contact the Knox United Church office at 274-4543 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or St. Mary's Church parish (274-5233).
Looking ahead, “Families for Families” is waiting for a second Iraqi refugee family to be cleared to come here.
The family has completed all of its immigration requirements and currently is undergoing background checks.
The two families are related; the mother of the second family is the sister of Bashar.