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“It’s Been A Wild Ride:” Stories from the Trenches of Refugee Sponsorship

Refugees gathering at St. John’s Cathedral in Saskatoon at “Hello, Neighbour!” Photo: Hsin-Chen (Owen) Lu Community Development Worker

June 23, 2016

By Suzanne Rumsey

On May 29, 2016 members of the PWRDF Refugee Network met in Saskatoon for a day to share information, and to review, analyse and strategize about the refugee sponsorship work* they are engaged in.

In the wake of the now infamous photo of 3-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on Turkish beach, those gathered described the phenomenal explosion in the numbers of Canadian Anglicans and others who have stepped forward to sponsor refugees from Syria and elsewhere.  As one coordinator put it, “It’s been a wild ride, but it’s been worth it.”

During the meeting the group compiled statistics to try to get a sense of the numbers.  About 320 parish and community groups have stepped forward to sponsor, taking on approximately 678 cases (families or individuals) and a total of more than 1,750 refugees.  Many of those refugees have now arrived and are beginning their lives in Canada; others are still waiting to come.  These groups have raised over $20,000,000 to support these families as they begin their lives in Canada.

In the course of the group’s discussions concerns were expressed at just how stretched these mostly volunteer coordinators are.  One of them noted that she has gone from working 10 hours/month on refugee sponsorship to 12 hours/day.  And a number of coordinators expressed a desire for stronger support from their dioceses:  “It is the bishop on behalf of the diocese who holds the sponsorship agreement with IRCC…so it is important that the refugee work be understood to be a vital part of the ministry of the diocese.”

But there were also many expressions of gratitude for what has been achieved in the past eight months: “It’s been an incredible year for the dioceses… From coast to coast the Anglican churches have done something quite exceptional and this deserves more than an acknowledgement, but a celebration!”

* Fourteen dioceses in the Anglican Church of Canada are Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs) with Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).  In Québec, agreements are held with the provincial government.  The numbers quoted in the article include the Diocese of Montreal.

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