Syrian family could touch down in Chilliwack within weeks

Members of the van den Bosch and Byers families formed a Group of Five to sponsor a Syrian refugee family through BVOR. L to R (adults): Patsy Byers, Marty van den Bosch, Kristy van den Bosch, Esther Byers and Jason Byers. - JENNIFER FEINBERG/ PROGRESS
Members of the van den Bosch and Byers families formed a Group of Five to sponsor a Syrian refugee family through BVOR. L to R (adults): Patsy Byers, Marty van den Bosch, Kristy van den Bosch, Esther Byers and Jason Byers.

They’re listed as the ‘Group of Five Chilliwack’ in the paperwork.

They will likely be among the first locally to welcome Syrian refugees as a family group.

Chilliwack resident Marty van den Bosch, created his ‘group of five’ under the federal Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program. The other members include his wife, Kristy van den Bosch, mother-in-law Patsy Byers, and brother-in-law and sister-in-law Jason and Esther Byers of Agassiz.

They’re expecting a pre-screened family of four from Damascus to arrive in Chilliwack in about four to eight weeks from now.

“The community of Chilliwack has been tremendous in their support,” he said about the furious networking, and offers of goods and services, found on the Facebook page Chilliwack Refugees Support, and from Chilliwack Community Services.

Kristy van den Bosch said their group is excited to have been approved by the Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Matching Centre, which matches refugees cleared for resettlement with sponsors.

“I think it will be as rewarding for us, as it is for them,” she said.

Marty van den Bosch said he decided to do something after getting into an ideological debate about the Syrian crisis.

“What I noticed is that the antagonists tend to be quite vocal, but take little action.”

He was already contributing financially, but felt it wasn’t quite enough.

“I asked myself, what am I actually doing about this?” van den Bosch said.

He started researching the options.

“What I found was those who were in favour of helping the refugees were either doing nothing because they didn’t know what to do, or they felt intimidated because it seemed so monumental and overwhelming.”

They decided to form a Group of Five and move forward. The other options are going through a ‘sponsorship agreement holder’ like Mennonite Central Committee, for example.

“My goal in talking about this publicly is to move those who are paralyzed and doing nothing, into a group that takes action,” said van den Bosch. “This is not about us.”

It’s more about the process.

“I want people to know what the actual burden is to take a family out of hell and bring them here to start over.”

It’s easier than ever now in terms of the bureaucracy. Whereas under the Harper government the wait for a family to sponsor Syrian refugees could have taken up to seven years, now in the wake of changes made to BVOR by the Trudeau government, the actual wait time has been slashed to a matter of less than six months, once the paperwork is all approved.

“The process is not nearly as overwhelming as people might think,” said van den Bosch.

The figure of $27,000 for a family of four get bandied about, but he figures it will actually be less than that, and it works out to about $1400 per month to support the family.

“You don’t need to have the cash up front necessarily, although it doesn’t hurt,” he said.

One reason why it is doable is that Government of Canada will provide up to six months of the income support through the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP).

A BVOR commitment is for one full year. It requires the Group of Five to provide the family with a variety of supports — financial, social and emotional for that full year. Then they can decided to continue that support, or not.

“It’s really a question of time more than money,” said van den Bosch. “They’re coming over with next to nothing but a suitcase.”

Sure there are five sets of forms to fill out, and the need to show financial solvency, Canadian citizenship, and a lack of criminal records — but it wasn’t too much beyond that. They also have to provide accommodations, food, and other resources. He likened the application process to going for a car loan.

They want the Syrian family to be given a chance to thrive in Chilliwack — not just survive.

“You need to create a community. I think that’s an ingredient for overall success. Ultimately, I hope this leads to several families coming here,” said van den Bosch.

They’ll get about 10 days notice before their family boards a plane. The family headed for Chilliwack is currently in Amman, Jordan, waiting to be processed for travel.

The local sponsors know they’re in for some challenges. Not the least of which is that the Damascus family, with two parents and two boys, speak mainly Arabic. The dad had been taking computer training.

“I definitely think the language barrier will be a challenge,” said member of the group, Jason Byers.

The plan is to take advantage of English as a Second Language courses, and the resources of the Chilliwack Islamic Centre.

“Luckily we’re a family that is good at charades,” said group member and grandmother Patsy Byers.

But the idea to help a family, as a family, was a quick and easy decision.

“It was a no-brainer,” said Esther Byers.

The group of five feels pretty fortunate that they have the means to do this.

“I think it can only add to our lives,” said Grandma Byers. “How brave it is for a family to be uprooted and  head halfway across the world. We’d only hope that someone would do that for us if the tables were turned.”

There might be some pockets of fear lingering in the community about an influx of refugees.

But van den Bosch is not worried in the slightest.

“Maybe eight families in all will be coming to Chilliwack,” he said.

So 30 or 50 refugees integrating into a city of almost 100,000 is not dramatic.

“Are you even going to notice them? There is a lot of opportunity to diversify our community.

“I totally believe that’s a good thing,” said van den Bosch.

Find out more about CIC and BVOR at


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