Pauline Mahoney greets new Smithereen Saied Assaf (left) and his family at the Smithers airport last February. She went to Ottawa to help others bring refugees to their new homes.

World hears how Smithers helps refugees

A Smithers woman is doing her part to help Syrian refugees find a new home all over the world.

A Smithers woman is doing her part to help Syrian refugees find a new home all over the world.

Pauline Mahoney received a call from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada asking her to attend a meeting in Ottawa in December to give feedback on the private sponsorship process to bring refugees to Canada.

There were 30 people from across Canada at the meeting.

Mahoney was one of the only people representing a small community.

The feedback will be used to help as a guideline for other countries.

“The governments and these partnerships were then going to work on developing training in which they could then give to these nine countries and any other countries who would become interested so that they can go home and say, ‘well this is how Canada does it, how do we want to do it as a country?’ The goal was to move more people,” said Mahoney.

Mahoney is the coordinator of the Bulkley Valley Refugee Sponsorship Group. This past February, she and a private group — called a group of five — welcomed two Syrian families to Smithers.

“We formed a group of five and of that five, three have a to give a financial commitment. So that’s just a detail. So you have to show the government that there are five people in the community which are willing to walk alongside the family for a year to help them integrate into Canadian society,” she said.

Canada started this innovative approach in the late 70s, said Mahoney.

“No one else in the world does that except just recently. So countries are coming to Canada asking how do you do this, how do your citizens do this, how do you encourage them and give them the confidence and tools to do this,” she said. Mahoney explained that at the meeting she spoke about the importance of community engagement prior to the refugees coming in.

“I talk to kids and other groups, so that they would know that it’s tough to enter our country as a refugee. I immediately addressed some of those fears. We hear it all over the world, people just have these fears. You sort of have to look at how citizens can be in the community and allay those fears as well,” said Mahoney.

During the meeting, she got to shine a light on the things that small communities like Smithers are doing to make a difference.

She explained that despite the size of the town, it still has a lot to offer.

“Don’t focus on what a small community can’t offer, focus on what a small community can offer. We have teams of people who are willing to walk alongside our families and they give up themselves everyday,” said Mahoney.

“Diversity, it’s is a wonderful thing. It opens people’s eyes, gets them more accepting. It’s a powerful thing for a society to let people in.”

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