We had hoped to find at least 5 people needed to create a constituency group that can sponsor a refugee under the blended VOR program. The response was bigger than we had hoped: 13 people (and two guests) showed up at our first ‘formal’ meeting. Most came from two different groups – association members of Doctors Without Borders (where Claudia works) and members of a film group to which Andrew and Claudia belong. It turns out that many of us live in Riverdale and that the group members have a wide range of expertise that will be valuable for settling in refugees, including backgrounds in medicine, education, human resources, finance and communications.
We shared our motivations for joining the group. Some of us simply wanted to give back while others have been particularly alarmed by the plight of Syrian refugees and wanted to do something instead of just feeling helpless in the face of the enormity of the problem - and being frustrated by how few refugees from Syria and other countries Canada is taking in. Once a leader, Canada is now a shadow of its former self when it comes to taking in refugees.
Canada aims to to resettle about 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years - less than 0.02 per cent of the number of Syrian refugees hosted by Jordan, and not even 0.009 per cent of the total taken in by Lebanon. Ottawa expects private groups to should the majority of the burden. Several of us are appalled that the Canadian government makes private citizens pay a big part of the costs for settling in refugees and hope to raise awareness about this issue.
We invited Paul M. to our first meeting, whose faith-based group had sponsored two sets of refugees, a family from Iraq and a couple from Burma. The group’s experience was mixed: one settlement was very positive and easy while the other one was very challenging, mainly due to different expectations of the group and the refugees, who had not been informed prior to their arrival that Canadian sponsors would be responsible for their settlement in the first year. They were angry that they could not live with family members in a different town but in the end valued their experience in Toronto as they were able to adapt much quicker to their host culture and learn English faster.
Paul gave us some valuable pieces of advice, such as that we should be careful with our expectations. Our role is to help settle refugees and not become friends for life. We need to be aware that we will be quite busy before the refugees arrive and in the first 2 months after their arrival, with activities such as finding housing, opening bank accounts, finding schools etc. He stressed the importance of group formation and developing conflict resolution mechanisms.