At the recent United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants in New York, many participants applauded Canada’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis, especially when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau co-hosted a leaders’ summit.
Canada seems to have become, at least among UN leaders, something of a celebrated example of refugee sponsorship.
As of October 2, 2016, a total of 31,919 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada. This number includes
- 16,875 Government-Assisted Refugees
- 3,233 Blended-Visa Office-Referred Refugees (a program that shares government and private sponsorship), and
- 11,811 Privately Sponsored Refugees.
Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration John McCallum remarked during his appearance at the summit that at least 13 countries are now seeking to emulate the Canadian example of refugee sponsorship.
McCallum commented to the UN representatives that a replication of this program “could be part of the solution for the world at large.” Among the countries inquiring are the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany.
Canada’s private refugee sponsorship program, developed in the late 1970s under both the Pierre Trudeau and Joe Clark governments in response to the surge of Vietnamese refugees, is now being applauded as fresh thinking as the world considers the 4.7 million Syrian refugees still displaced in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.
The uniqueness of the Canadian program lies in the enlistment of citizens who help provide funding to bring refugees to their new home and help get them settled after the newcomers arrive.
Canadian churches have been engaged particularly in both the Blended-Visa Office Referred and the Privately Sponsored parts of the program.
Churches have worked hard to raise funds and locate affordable housing (an immense challenge in cities like Vancouver or Toronto). Churches have welcomed and supported families adjusting to their new home, often journeying with them long after their arrival. In cases where the trauma of war and violence have demanded more support, many churches have provided for emotional and healthcare needs.
There are also church groups still waiting to see their sponsored refugee family step off a plane.
For some, the months of waiting have meant paying rent for housing secured earlier in the year when quick arrivals were the norm – a financial and emotional challenge for the sponsoring group.
The government is working to resolve the issues that are creating the hold-up, or to offer groups a replacement refugee family. This too has been a challenge for groups that may have been in communication with and formed attachments to an expected family, getting to know them personally. How do they then leave them for another family?
Thankfully, in the last few weeks there has again been a surge of promised new arrivals which will likely continue until the end of the year.
The unsung heroes in this program’s success are the Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs). Many evangelical denominations have their own SAHs, assisting their churches in sponsorship. These are the caring and hardworking organizations and individuals tasked with matching church groups with refugees who have cleared UN security. The SAHs then go on to help support refugees once they resettle in Canada.
They often have long workdays pouring over application files, watching for new allocations and analyzing details to best match groups with refugees. They answer hundreds of calls and thousands of questions. And when the government called for more refugee sponsorship, they were there to make sure as many applications as possible were received by our government – and on time!
Individual SAHs from the following denominations participate in the EFC’s Denominational SAH Working Group:
- Associated Gospel Church of Canada
- Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec
- Canadian Baptists of Western Canada
- Christian and Missionary Alliance Church of Canada
- Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches
- Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada
- Fellowship Baptist Churches of Canada
- The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada
- The Salvation Army, Canada and Bermuda Territory
- North Park Community Church, London
And representative organizations that include:
- Mennonite Central Committee
- World Renew
Evangelical churches in Canada are playing a central role in Canada’s globally celebrated response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Canadian Evangelicals are living out their calling to “welcome the stranger” (Leviticus 19:33-34). There are many beautiful and inspiring stories of churches extending welcome and compassion, blessing and being blessed in return.
So while we continue to welcome new Canadians from Syria, what’s next?
Rescue, relief and re-settlement remain urgent, but we are also learning together what it means to journey alongside and care for those we welcome. A gift that evangelical churches in Canada have to offer is the gift of community. May we be a place of welcome where newcomers find help, hope and healing.