An LGBTQ refugee from Middle East could soon call the Harbour City home.
Reaching Out Assisting Refugees, or ROAR, a volunteer group that focuses on resettling LGBTQ refugees, is expecting its first privately sponsored refugee to arrive in Nanaimo in the coming weeks.
Alessandro Iachelli, vice-chairperson of ROAR, said the incoming refugee, a young man who identifies as LGBTQ, should arrive in Nanaimo sometime this month or early next year.
“We don’t have a date but we do know they got their final approval, pending security checks,” Iachelli said.
ROAR was formed in 2016 with the intention of resettling refugees who identify as LGBTQ. Two private refugee sponsorship groups have been formed within ROAR, which has partnered with Brechin United Church.
While one group within ROAR is expecting a refugee any week now, the second group has just filed the paperwork to bring another LGTBQ refugee to Nanaimo.
“We are pretty lucky in Canada,” Iachelli said. “In that area of the world (the Middle East) there is still a lot of societal stigma around gay people.”
Many of ROAR’s members identify as LGBTQ themselves, according to Iachelli, who said although the group partners with Brechin United, ROAR itself is non-denominational and has partnerships with other organizations.
“We partner with Rainbow Refugee in Vancouver, they specifically deal with LGBTQ individuals and so on,” Iachelli said. “We’re also making connections with other similar organizations in Toronto.”
Recently, the Nanaimo Pride Society provided a $1,000 donation to ROAR, which will be used to help resettle the incoming refugee. ROAR also held a beer and burger fundraiser on Saturday for resettlement services of a second LGBTQ refugee being sponsored by members of ROAR.
“All the funds go into the refugee fund we have and they will help to provide the necessary funds to support them financially, socially and emotionally,” he said.
For many refugees fleeing their home it can be extremely difficult. Iachelli said for LGBTQ refugees it can be made even more challenging because many of them don’t share their the sexual orientation with their family or friends, for fear of being stigmatized.
“It’s a little more complicated that way because of discrimination,” he said.
Iachelli said it’s his understanding that many LGBTQ refugees don’t end up in traditional United Nations refugee camps, but instead elect to try to make it somewhere safe on their own.
“A lot of them, especially the younger generations of refugees, just flee their countries and try to get to whatever embassy they can,” he said.
Although ROAR is based in Nanaimo, the group is looking to expand across Vancouver Island and is encouraging anyone who is interested and living in other Island communities to reach out to them.
“We are really excited about the project and we are in it for the long haul,” he said. “We hope to expand Vancouver Island wide. If there is interest from the north Island or wherever, we want to be able to connect with those people as well and hopefully grow the project.”
Iachelli said he’s looking forward to ROAR’s first wave of sponsored refugees to arrive in the city. He said the incoming refugees will add diversity to Nanaimo and the Island.
“These people are going to come here and contribute to our communities in various ways,” he said.
For more information on ROAR and the beer and burger event, please visit https://www.roarrefugees.com/beer-burger-fundraiser.