The refugee crisis occasionally manages to grab our attention, not quite keeping pace with breaking news, although the world’s refugees are now an estimated 22.5 million. “The cameras have gone but the suffering endures”, to quote the The Guardian article, which grieves the world’s lack of welcome for these newcomers.
Canada has thankfully adopted an attitude of inclusion, appreciation of diversity and openness to refugees. Private citizens have spontaneously stepped up to the plate, forming sponsorship groups. An enormous amount of work is being done here on Vancouver Island and across the country, invisible to most of us. Over the past few weeks, as I’ve found out more about this crisis, I’ve been constantly surprised by the magnitude of the effort and the worrying amount of work still needing to be done.
A little while ago, our Bahá’í neighbourhood group decided to ask what we could do to help. I had no idea how much there was to learn. The teaching I’d heard a million times, “the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens”, has been given a whole new meaning.
I first spoke with someone from the Anglican diocese and was totally enthralled by the drama and humanity of the stories of local refugees and sponsorship groups. It was obvious there was enormous amount of caring and coordination involved. The diocese is one of two umbrella organizations for sponsors coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs. The other is the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA).
By the following week when I met with Sabine Lehr of ICA, I knew enough to know I didn’t know much. I decided to ask what she needed and see where the conversation went. There was not one second of hesitation in her response: “Right now I need sponsors for the most vulnerable refugees – the BVOR group!”
“Okay!” I said. “…B what?” My learning curve was about to look like a hockey stick.
The facts are a little mind blowing. There are many different types of programs, BVOR being one for refugees who are among those most in need of resettlement. Don’t bother asking what it stands for – it stands for a brilliant way to help. And help is most definitely needed.
I was already aware of the incredible work done by ICA, but the enormity of the tasks shouldered by those working with refugees and sponsorship groups is truly impressive. I learned a little about the BVOR program, under which the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) refers refugees to the Canadian Government to be jointly sponsored with private citizens. For this program to work, awareness and volunteerism on the part of Canadian citizens is needed. Otherwise, assistance can’t be offered, even though the refugees are cleared for travel and have at least partial funding. Unfortunately, far too few people know of this program.
The good news, if you’d like to know more and perhaps assist, is that there’s an upcoming event that’s designed exactly for that. ICA will be hosting Responding to the Refugee Crisis, 1:30 – 4:30 pm, Saturday, 21 July at 2625 Arbutus Rd.
There will be an informative program designed to move and inspire, including UN Refugee Agency spokesperson Aviva Basman, as well as Mohammed Alsaleh, a sponsorship trainer and former refugee who gave a TED-x Talk on The Refugee Crisis. Following refreshments there will be a panel chosen for their local expertise, and small table discussions where a multitude of questions can be answered. Registration is free, at Eventbrite: Responding to the Refugee Crisis. Come and bring a friend!
Sheila Flood is a member of the Bahá’í Faith (www.bahai.org), a chaplain with UVic Multifaith Services and the Secretary of the Victoria Multifaith Society.
You can read more articles from our multifaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
*This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, June 30th 2018