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Funds sought to bring Myanmar refugees to Castlegar

A local group has been revived to bring a refugee family of four from Myanmar to Castlegar.

The Castlegar Refugee Project previously brought two refugee families to the area a few years ago. One family, from Syria, now lives in Nelson, while another, from Myanmar, now lives in Regina.

A member of the latter family contacted group member Julie Leffelaar to see what she could to help her cousin’s family, who fled Myanmar a decade ago due to threats on their lives from their own government because they are Christians.

“In the last year things have gotten much worse,” Leffelaar told city council this week.

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“They live in Malaysia, but are not recognized by Malaysia. They have UN refugee asylum protection, but that’s it. They can’t work or go to school. They’re always being arrested arbitrarily. They have to pay their own way out or pay a bribe.

“We just got a long statement from them saying daily life is a matter of hiding from everybody because they’re always being shaken down or beaten.”

Leffelaar said a new committee has been formed to help the family, but they will need $40,000 before the paperwork can even begin. They would like to secure the funds this year and are planning an international cultural festival, probably in November, similar to others they have held before.

They have asked the city to kick the campaign off with a $5,000 donation. Two councillors expressed some doubt about whether they could provide that amount, but council asked staff to come back to them with some options.

A GoFundMe page has also been launched with a $15,000 target.

Even with the money, Leffelaar said it could take three years before the family arrives. Once they are here, they will need to find housing, schooling, and work.

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