Vital People: Refugees find a welcoming hand through sponsorship

People fleeing war and oppression have been welcomed to Canada with open arms, thanks to the Refugee Sponsorship Program offered by the Anglican Synod of the Diocese of British Columbia.

The diocese provides humanitarian assistance to refugees by welcoming them as newcomers to the region. It helps newcomers integrate, while encouraging them to become self-sufficient.

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The diocese is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder, an organization that has signed a sponsorship agreement with the Government of Canada to help support refugees from abroad when they resettle in Canada. They can sponsor refugees themselves, or work with others in the community to sponsor refugees.

They have sponsored more than 250 people fleeing war and oppression since 2015. There are more than 100 individuals on their wait list, and not enough sponsoring groups to meet the growing demand.

More than 625 volunteers work in the program, privately sponsoring 268 refugees. The diocese successfully settled 159 refugees last year, the majority as families.

“Refugees are the greatest crisis of our times,” said Andrea McCoy, community engagement co-ordinator for the Refugee Sponsorship Program at the diocese. “Fortunately, the local community has been very generous, showing compassion and hidden generosity.

“They have demonstrated an openness to diversity and change. They are at the heart of the program, showing empathy and respect for the bravery of the families.”

Volunteers help orient newcomers to language and settlement programs, health services, and the Canadian workplace while offering emotional and financial support.

The Victoria Foundation has pledged funding for support program staff who co-ordinate volunteers and provide support and services to refugee resettlement.

Some of the refugees successfully resettled here have embarked on a secondary migration, as they attempt to reunite with family or friends settled elsewhere or move for employment.

“We have found that families who are together are always happier,” said McCoy, who helped settle more than 500 Syrian refugees in 2016 as co-co-ordinator for the Vancouver Island Refugee Response Team.

Many refugees are coming from Syria, which has been gripped by civil war since 2011.

McCoy said the need for help has not diminished. “Fortunately, we have found evidence of growing interest among young people.”

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