This is a moment in time when the United Church
can feel proud. More than 500 congregations are
involved in sponsoring refugees, and thousands of
soon-to-be new Canadians are arriving this year
into the care of the church and its partners.
But focusing exclusively on stories such as Hillhurst misses
two crucial points as the first wave of Canada’s response to the
Syrian refugee crisis winds down. First, 43 million people—
more than the entire population of Canada—are currently displaced by war, persecution, or natural disaster, according to the
United Nations. That’s the highest number since the mid-1990s.
Fifteen million of those are refugees; the rest are internally displaced. Fewer than one percent find new homes in developed
countries such as Canada, Germany, Australia, and Sweden.
In this context, the 25,000 Syrian refugees Canada has
settled this year represent barely a dent in the global tragedy.
Second, many sponsorship agreement holders are facing
challenges. For the last 15 years, Rosedale United Church
in Toronto has sponsored refugees from Iraq, Iran, Georgia,
Colombia, and Sudan. Currently, the church has committed
to supporting 17 families—each with its own sponsorship
group, which has raised between $40,000 and $80,000 for
each family. They’re also supporting two families whose
sponsors had not raised enough money, or found enough volunteers, to make the settlement work.
CALGARY’S HILLHURST UNITED CHURCH wel- comed a family of five Syrian refugees in February, and the congregation is already talking about sponsoring more. Members have revelled in taking dad, Adnan
Yassin, mom, Mona Moghandaf, and their five children to the
Calgary Zoo, Calgary Flames games, and to the city’s many
The second-eldest daughter in this refugee family, Assma,
has become a civic celebrity. Her dream of meeting Prime
Minister Justin Trudeau came true in July. In the embrace of a
cowboy hat–wearing Trudeau, she appeared on the front page
of the city’s Metro newspaper, wide grins on both faces.
Don Workman is chair of Hillhurst’s Refugee Committee.
He says he initially had reservations about agreeing to spon-
sor a large family. “I knew it would involve a lot of my time...
But it is very rewarding,” he says. “It’s surprised me how
much I like spending time with them.”
If you’re looking for a successful refugee settlement story,
look no further than Hillhurst. Fundraising for the sponsor-
ship came easily, and the whole family speaks some English.
by Pieta Woolley
What we learned and
why we need to do more
Nour Yassin is one of the family
members who is sponsored by
Hillhurst United Church, Calgary.