What is Happening
Although there has never been a shortage of refugees, the civil war in Syria that began in 2011 has created a desperate situation worldwide as people flee the violence and are forced to build new homes and lives. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has numbered Syrian refugees at 4,393,831 as of December 2015. The Canadian government initially pledged to bring in 25,000 in 2015. The deadline was extended into 2016 and by January 2017, the number of Syrian refugees who arrived in Canada was 35,147. Of these, 18,433 were government-sponsored (GAR), 13,138 privately sponsored, and 3,576 blended visa office referred. With the target met, the government has redeployed its resources and the processing of Syrian applications has slowed dramatically. Hundreds of sponsorship groups are still waiting.
The Cathedral-Community Refugee Response Committee was formed in November 2015 with the goal of sponsoring two families, one Syrian and one a named case. This means helping them settle in Canada by raising funds for the first year of living expenses, helping them to connect with local resources and generally learn how to live independently in their new country. The committee works with AURA (Anglican-United Refugee Alliance), a sponsorship agreement holder with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
How You Can Help
Thanks to the generosity of Cathedral parishioners and members of the wider community, the refugee sponsorship committee has raised the amount needed to sponsor one individual and two families. Support is now needed in the following areas:
- Advocating with the federal government for speeding up the processing of Syrians, increasing ESL resources, and retaining the Blended Visa Office Referred program
- Networking to find affordable temporary and permanent housing for a family in the Cathedral neighbourhood
- Identifying potential volunteer interpreters who speak Arabic
Update: Cathedral-Community Refugee Sponsorship Committee: March 2017
Kambiz, the first of the refugees we are sponsoring, arrived on July 14 from Iran via Turkey. With the generous help of cathedral parishioners, we have been able to find both temporary and long-term affordable housing – a key part of our sponsorship commitment. And then there have been the many, many other aspects of settlement: meetings with a Woodgreen settlement worker, obtaining OHIP, setting up phone and banking, registering for English as a Second Language classes, accessing medical and dental care, orientation to the TTC, etc. This work requires Farsi interpreters. On some occasions, the interpretation has ben provided by members of a family the Cathedral sponsored in 1989 – a moving example of the benefits of refugee sponsorship to both the refugees being sponsored and Canadian society. Refugee sponsorship also requires flexibility and willingness to step in on short notice, which committee members have done with grace and skill.
On the slowdown in the processing of Syrian refugees, Ian McBride of AURA reports that the federal government is quietly getting through the backlog, but certainly not at the speed of 2015-early 2016. In the meantime, sponsorship groups like ours have sponsored single adults and families from other countries while waiting to be matched with a Syrian family.
Finally, while the sponsorship committee will continue to support Kambiz until July 2017, we are looking ahead to our next sponsorships – of a Syrian family and another family after that. We are very happy to report that we have now raised the amount required for these sponsorships, even exceeding our original goal.
The refugee sponsorship committee is deeply grateful for the generous financial support, practical assistance, and wise counsel of Cathedral parishioners and community leaders. With God’s grace, let us continue to welcome the stranger together.
Chair, Cathedral-Community Refugee Response Committee
416-364-7865, ext. *801