Massive influx of Syrian Kurdish refugees into Turkey

Pinch me, I must be dreaming…

Homily on November 8, 2015 by Katherine Assad

Yesterday on the bus I got a text message from Rob Shropshire, a member of the Holy Trinity refugee committee whom many of you know, telling me to listen to an interview on CBC with John MaCallum, our new Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. Rob said that the interview was so amazing he was literally pinching himself, so I listened to it right then and there.

The minister confirmed that the government will indeed be moving ahead with the resettlement of 25,000 refugees and that the interim federal health program for refugees that was cut a few years ago would be fully reinstated. And these 25000 to be resettled will be government-assisted refugees. These numbers do not include the number of refugees that will be privately sponsored by constituent groups like ours of groups of five. For me this point is huge.

The private sponsorship program was created with the mandate of going above and beyond the yearly quota of refugees the Canadian government resettles in any given year. Over the past few years the previous government has been reshaping the program to offload it’s responsibility to resettle refugees to private groups. Many organizations, the Anglican church included, called on the government to uphold this principle of ‘additionality’ in which private sponsorship is understood to be an addition to, and not a replacement for, government efforts to resettle.

With this new government taking on the responsibility to settle this large number of refugees, I am really feeling hopeful that the program’s principle of ‘additionality’ will be re-established.

The commitments from our new government are definitely something to rejoice about. But the complete 180, or as minister McCallum called it, the ‘black and white’ difference of approach toward refugees between these two governments, has been so swift, it almost feels unsettling to me.

The story today of Ruth and her marriage to Boaz gives me a similar feeling. Ruth was a foreigner, a labourer and a Moabite, a group that ‘may not enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation’. Yet luck comes upon her, because she finds the favour of Boaz, a wealthy and powerful Judahite. And because of this, her world is changed forever! She will go on to marry Boaz and bear his children in a lineage that ends in David. This story in many ways feels inspirational in the sense that it shows the welcoming of a foreigner into a community. But what is unsettling is that you could also see it as Ruth’s future being determined by Boaz alone. He could have chosen another woman working in his fields to be his wife and bear his children.

This story for me serves as a reminder of how those with power can change the lives of vulnerable people so dramatically for better or for worse. I’m sure anyone in the refugee committee can tell you how unsettling it feels that we pick from a list who we would like to sponsor next. We go through pages and pages of stories of persecution. And our decision at a Sunday night meeting means that one family can leave a refugee camp before another, to start a life in a new country.

Witnessing, as we are right now, how radically government policies can change in such a short period of time, it should only motivate us more to continue fighting for the rights of vulnerable people-people who could be victims of bad decision-making on the part of our government. Christian organizations, congregations and individuals have always played an instrumental role in the shaping and development of refugee resettlement in Canada, especially as it relates to the private sponsorship of refugees program, Christians are the single largest source of refugee sponsors in Canada.

At our annual retreat in August, the refugee committee set some goals for the upcoming year. Reflecting on the wealth of knowledge and experience in the committee, we decided that we were going to increase our outreach to other sponsoring committees or those considering sponsoring. This is something we have done on an ad hoc basis over the years but the goal was to make a strong and deliberate effort to make connections with other groups to provide encouragement and advice.

We soon realized after the retreat, that whether or not this was a goal of ours, it was happening, because people started approaching us. Over the past few months we have been very busy connecting with many churches, Anglican and United, who are seeking advice and information on sponsorship. While it is the responsibility of the sponsorship agreement holder to provide the group with training on the settlement process, advice and anecdotes from other sponsoring groups can at times be invaluable.

I really see this as an amazing moment in the history of private sponsorship. Churches that have never thought to sponsor are now coming forward, forming groups, gathering resources from within their communities to welcome newcomers. I know that many people administering the paperwork for sponsorship agreement holders have seen their workload triple and quadruple since September from interested congregations.

The Syrian refugee crises and the media attention that has come with it has no doubt been the catalyst for a lot of this interest. It is my hope that groups and congregations supporting Syrian refugees in their settlement will continue sponsoring for years to come. Speaking to some of these newly formed groups looking for advice, I’ve learned that many that had the initial intent to sponsor Syrians were told by the sponsorship agreement holder they were working with, that at the moment there are no Syrians to sponsor. They were then asked if they would consider sponsoring another refugee family. Their reply? ‘sure’.

The Holy trinity refugee committee is currently sponsoring a family of four from Columbia, a mother with three young children. This is a two-year sponsorship commitment and a high needs case so we have an extremely busy sub-committee taking the lead on this case.

In true holy trinity fashion. we recognize a lot of people are responding to Syriansand we thought it was important to reach out to people who wouldn’t have the benefit of being sponsored and have been waiting on lists for a very long time. So, last week we submitted the application to sponsor a single Eritrean man who is travel ready, he could be arriving in a matter of weeks.

We feel very lucky to now be working under the United Church sponsorship agreement. They’ve been very flexible with our group, allowing us to sponsor more than one case at a time if we have the capability and the resources.

Another one of our goals for this year was to bring in new members, and at our last meeting we welcomed five new members into our committee. In total we are a committee of about 20 active members at the moment.

The GTA will most likely see the bulk of the 25,000 refugees being resettled. Housing, education and language training are just a few challenges that will need to be worked out in the coming months and years. So far the government has indicted that they are seeking a strong collaboration with all levels of government and the not for profit sector to assist in the settlement process. I’m excited for the potential opportunities for the refugee committee and the greater Holy Trinity community to become involved in, in the near future.

Our last meeting was particularly special because we had a researcher from UBC attend. She is researching for the Japanese government how the private sponsorship of refugees program functions in Canada because this is something Japan is considering implementing. Japan does not have the same settlement support structures that an immigrant receiving country like Canada has, so they see private sponsorship by citizens as possibly the best method of settling refugees in their country. The researcher asked some really great questions of the committee, one of them being, where does our sense of compassion come from? (And I wish someone had videoed the responses because they were so great) Many people said that their compassion had come from their family or friends; it was something that they had learned and felt from another. And thinking about this more, I really feel as though compassion is something that spreads the more contact it has with others. Because personally, I’m learning compassion from this community on a daily basis and learning what it means show your faith through action.

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