says Hugh Kerr, chair of the church’s Refugee Sponsorship
“There was a great rush of activity at Christmas. Having
identified the families that were coming, we assumed things
would go smoothly, not recognizing that the refugee process
is slow,” says Kerr, a retired engineering professor. “We con-
tacted our MP to try to speed things up, and the groups are
pretty frustrated, as you can imagine.”
The two parents and three children who arrived mid-
June seem to be integrating well, says Kerr. They all speak
English. The children attend school. They met a Jordanian
family who have become friends.
“We try to keep our interaction low-key so we don’t overwhelm them,” says Kerr, who adds that support from the
United Church’s General Council Office has been invaluable as the municipality of Squamish has negotiated the
Overall, Mui says most sponsorships have been positive,
both for the refugees and the congregations involved, which
may lead to a larger ongoing role for United Church members.
“I don’t know if we’ll get something else in five years that
will catch people’s attention like this,” she says.
Meanwhile, 43 million displaced people are waiting for a
Pieta Woolley is a writer and regular contributer who lives
in Powell River, British Columbia.
crisis will whet Canada’s appetite to settle more refugees
from other countries.
“This isn’t a criticism of government. They accomplished
what they set out to. And compared to the last 10 years, it’s a
huge accomplishment. But now we need to view all refugees
as having the same opportunities for sponsorship.”
Mui notes that because Canada prioritized Syrian refugees
this year, others, especially in Africa, have been left waiting.
Currently, there are 18 million refugees and displaced people
in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations,
largely from ongoing crises in Sudan, the Central African
Republic, and Nigeria. New conflicts in Yemen and Burundi
are swiftly driving up the numbers of displaced people.
What’s more, the crisis is deepening. Many of the world’s
refugees are displaced years longer than in the past, fewer
return home, and most reside in other developing countries,
which bear the costs. Turkey hosts more refugees than any
other country at 2. 5 million. Next are Pakistan, Lebanon,
Iran, Ethiopia, and Jordan.
The appetite to help refugees seems healthy. In Squamish, British Columbia, the United Church congregation stepped up and agreed to support four separate groups
wanting to sponsor four families.
As of July, just one of the four families had arrived. That’s
been disappointing for those who raised funds and renovated their basements to accommodate the new Canadians,
The families are amazing and grateful, but there’s lots
of trauma. They’re coming into a place that’s better, but
they’re dependent on others and in an unfamiliar space,
so there’s a lot of emotion.
Members of two Syrian families sponsored in Paris, Ontario.