The blessed road to Refugee Sponsorship in 2015

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United Refugee Sponsorship Committee. “It has been a huge learning curve. We started our committee back in February when the Canadian government announced a commitment to bringing in 25,000 refugees.” John Tully (member of St. Andrews United) called a meeting of interested people to sponsor a refugee family, from within the St. Andrews United Church congregation. “The committee has really grown since the initial call to action. We are getting people donating things, including furnishings, and household items. Housing is still a work in progress.”

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Each sub-committee is working to ensure the family is welcomed with everything they need when they get here, including a warm welcome at point of entry to Canada. “One thing we have found, is that this process has been a blessing for the church. This ’cause’ has united us as a congregation, and brought us closer together. We want to make sure that we are doing everything we can for the year long commitment to support this refugee family. The ongoing support will continue to grow and flourish as a blessing for our congregation. We are getting more excited as this process becomes a reality.”

A family of 6 from Burma, who have been living at a refugee camp in Thailand for four years, have been selected from a ‘vetted’ list provided by the government of Canada. Profiles of refugees on the fluid and continually changing list, are how the Burmese family was selected as a good match for St. Andrews United Church. The youngest two children were born in the refugee camp. Things can happen quite quickly, once a family or individual is selected for immigration as a refugee.

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The United Church of Canada is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH). “Accessing this programme saves a lot of frustration and paperwork for our committee.” Working through the General Council office of The United Church of Canada helps to navigate the complicated pathway for sponsoring refugees.

“We are working through Khwaka Kukubo and her assistant, who have been incredibly helpful. We are further tapped into the Resettlement of Refugee Programme through the Federal Government of Canada. “We have been served well and supported by the people delivering the Resettlement of Refugee Programme. They, in turn, are aware and connected to the United Church as an SAH. Having this system in place has been vital to the success of bringing a family to The Sault.”
“We are doing our refugee sponsorship under a blended visa, which means half of the cost of sponsoring the family is covered by government, and the other half is covered by our church. There are separate profiles that we look through of people who qualify for that funding. The Burmese family of 6 , living for four years in a Thailand Refugee Camp, came to us through this stream in refugee sponsorship. We are considered a ‘Constituent group’ through the United Church.”

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There are other ways to support refugees, including through service clubs, and groups where a minimum of 5 people would essentially co-sign to pool together dollars and a network of support. Refugee Sponsorship is a one year commitment on the part of the sponsoring group.

The committee has been in touch with The Sault Community Career Centre, specifically, Newcomers Settlement Services. “They have been really great, offering to help us with forms, and connecting to services for the refugee family.” Refugee Sponsorship Committee members John Tully and Linda Coulter, met with Mayor Christian Provenzano, to share information about the work of the St. Andrews United Church committee. The City of Sault Ste. Marie is the lead organization of the Local Immigration Partnership. LIP is fully funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and is made up of approximately 50 members representing many local organizations, institutions, service providers and cultural groups.

‘Our newcomer settlement services is a program funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Ministry of Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade. This is a one-stop service centre for newcomers to Canada living in Sault Ste. Marie and area. This program supports our new-to-the-Sault individuals and families to help them successful integrate into the community. We have a team of dynamic and qualified Settlement Counsellors ready to help you with your settlement needs.’www.saultcareercentre.ca/newcomers
“One of the problems with bringing refugees to the Sault is that the immigrants, who come to our city, have to report to the nearest immigration office, which is in Windsor, Ontario.” Within a specific timeframe, possibly within the first two weeks even, the entire family of 6, will need to report to the office. The Refugee Sponsorship Committee is hoping that the S.C.C. (Sault Community Career Centre) & L.I.P. (Local Immigration Partnership), can arrange for an immigration officer to come to the Sault.

‘As part of an initiative of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), the Sault Ste. Marie Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) is designed to encourage communities across the province to develop extensive and comprehensive local settlement strategy plans for the development and implementation of services for newcomers, to ease the transition into the work force and social integration into the City.’ http://www.discoverthesault.ca

The Canadian government provides resources for the family to fly to Canada, however, the family must start paying back those costs of travel to the federal government within a month. “Our family is travel ready. Flights are issued to the family through the Canadian government. They (government) fly the family courtesy of an interest loan.” When everything is ready, the government processes the flight itinerary. “We expect our family to be here within 4 weeks.” The family’s travel visas have been issued through Singapore as point of departure.

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“There are 4 other refugees from Burma in our community that we have been made aware of. We have reached out to the International Student facilitator through Sault College for support to our family when they arrive. Things like favourite foods, ideas for places to shop locally for grocery items, and social opportunities”. The ongoing support is going to include making sure the family is taken care of over the course of a full year.

At a meeting of the Refugee Sponsorship Committee on Tuesday, Sept.29th,2015, at St. Andrews United Church, John Tully shared updates with committee members on work being done to link the youngsters and adults to education resources. “2nd Language Learning Programme, Parent & Family Literacy Programme, which includes reading and socializing processes, are available through The Algoma District School Board.” The Burmese family speaks Karen. The Karen /kəˈrɛn/, or Karenic, languages are tonal languages spoken by some seven million Karen people. The Karen languages are written using the Burmese script. The three main branches are Sgaw, Pwo, and Pa’o. The Committee was hard at work with enthusiasm and verve as they drilled down on the list of things each sub-committee was taking on.

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The Refugee Sponsorship Committee at St. Andrew’s United Church is organizing a garage sale on October 17th,2015. Make plans to attend this indoor event, and support the work of the congregation in bringing a refugee family to our community. For information about St. Andrews United church visit http://www.standrewsunitedssm.ca

‘Uprooted people at the crossroads of life number 20 million refugees, 25 million internally displaced (within their own countries), 30 million economic migrants forced from their homes to survive and the desperate who become fodder for human smugglers and traffickers. In our world, about 1 person in 50 is uprooted.’ http://www.united-church.ca