The Syrian refugee crisis has moved many of us who live along the Creek, as it has others across Canada and the world. In the summer of 2015, several delegates to the FCSNA came to believe that finding a way to bring a refugee family into our marvellous neighbourhood could both alleviate undeserved suffering and also help to bring us together as a community.
The Refugee Sponsorship Committee wanted to find a family who is a good fit for our community, with good prospects for successful resettlement; a family with young children, who can benefit from connecting with young people in the neighbourhood; a family with relations in Metro Vancouver to help with acculturation and language issues, and Rojin Hassan, Azad’s cousin, lives in Vancouver and is delighted to welcome him and Helwa and their daughters, Aya and Pella, to the community.
We can expect the family will experience the after-effects of difficult circumstances, as well as the challenges of adapting to a very different society. They will need patient, supportive assistance to learn how to thrive in Canada. Upon arrival, they became legal residents of this country, eligible for employment and all social services. We are relying on settlement services such as MOSAIC for language training and continuing assistance. Our task will be to help them on their way to establishing new lives in our country, both by respecting their autonomy and rights of choice, while offering emotional support, and by assisting as we can in all the practical matters of resettlement.
Our ability to house the family in our neighbourhood is a key part of the initiative. We have an agreement to rent an apartment in the Twin Rainbows co-op until the end of January 2018. Under the private sponsorship program, sponsors agree to provide direct financial assistance to meet monthly costs, such as rent, food, transit and incidentals, and for household set up costs: furniture, bedding and linens, clothing, kitchenware and food staples, school supplies, and so on. In-kind donations can help greatly to reduce direct costs.
In addition to financial support, private sponsors are responsible for important aspects of settlement assistance, everything from meeting the family at the airport to getting social insurance numbers, enrolling children in school, finding a dentist and doctor, locating an interpreter, and so on. Beyond the immediate needs of establishment and orientation, sponsors agree to provide ongoing volunteer support for up to a year. With a goal of moving the family toward independence and self-sufficiency as quickly as possible, community members will be called upon to help out in various ways. Some will entail connecting the family to resources like settlement agencies’ services, enrolling them in ESL classes, helping them find employment, searching out other professional services as needed. Other kinds of help, if welcomed by the family, may be more personal: assisting with child care, practicing English conversation, exchanging visits, explaining Canadian ways, and perhaps most importantly, readiness to offer the hand of friendship.
After careful consideration, we decided to undertake this initiative within Canada’s Private Refugee Sponsorship Program, partnering with an established Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH). Under this arrangement, our community will provide assistance for up to one year, including housing, essential financial support, assistance with accessing public services, and the many aspects of orientation and support that good neighbours can provide to newcomers.
Sponsorship Agreement Holders are substantial organizations (for the most part nationally organized religious groups) that have standing arrangements with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to undertake refugee resettlement. SAHs have expertise in the required processes, including access to lists of qualified refugees and extensive contacts with resettlement agencies and service providers. They offer a more streamlined process for local communities to gain approval for sponsorship efforts. At the local level, SAHs commonly work through local congregations prepared to provide funds and undertake necessary support work.
Our Refugee Sponsorship Committee has arranged a partnership with the University Hill Congregation of the United Church of Canada. As co-sponsors, we raise the necessary funds and provide housing in our community and all essential volunteer efforts. We draw on the expertise of the church and, through this partnership, are able to provide charitable receipts for donations to the initiative.