With up to 2,000 Syrian refugees expected to arrive in Manitoba this winter, the Elmwood Community Resource Centre is trying to prevent a repeat of what happened last January.

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With up to 2,000 Syrian refugees expected to arrive in Manitoba this winter, the Elmwood Community Resource Centre is trying to prevent a repeat of what happened last January.

That's when Bethelihem Zeleke Eliso, 17, got lost on her way home from her first day of school in -33 C weather, days after arriving in Canada from Ethiopia. She took shelter in an unoccupied building overnight and survived unharmed, but her disappearance rocked the entire community and her distraught parents.

"We want to prevent that," said Nina Condo, executive director of the Elmwood resource centre. It is hosting a cross-cultural community awareness forum on welcoming newcomers to Manitoba Monday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Elmwood East Kildonan Active Living Centre, 180 Poplar Ave.

If someone had seen the girl wandering the streets in the bitter cold and stopped to ask if she was lost, it might have spared the girl, her family and Winnipeggers a lot of anguish and worry.

"We want to bring an awareness of how as a community we can all work together and help the newcomers settle properly," said Condo.

Knowing what to look for and how to help are reasons the centre is hosting the event, she said. "If you're seeing me lost on the street or on the bus, instead of wondering, you can ask 'Do you need help? Are you lost?' If that person can't understand, there is someone I can call and say 'Can you check on them?' " she said.

"Be community-minded and aware that something like that might happen," said Condo, who is from Rwanda and moved to Canada in 2000.

"I know how it feels to be a newcomer -- how it takes a whole community support system to give you hope and a positive outlook," she said. "The Syrian people have a pass to freedom but that's not the end point."

Monday's forum is for anyone who has questions about the immigration process for Syrian refugees and their resettlement in Manitoba, she said.

"It's to create awareness of what people can expect and to give them the space to ask questions or share their fears," she said. Representatives from the provincial government, a refugee resettlement organization and the federally funded Elmwood resource centre that runs a newcomer settlement program will be there to answer questions, said Condo.

"We take them around and help them find housing, daycare, doctors -- help them with schools and to know what bus to take," said Condo. They've prepared a "tip sheet" for community members and volunteers working with newcomers. At Monday's forum, they'll share some of those tips with people so they can prepare and, perhaps, prevent Syrian refugees from experiencing more trauma here in Winnipeg.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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