Report from the Refugee Ministry

REFUGEE MINISTRY–Diocese of Rupert’s Land

April 4 of this year was Refugee Rights Day, so it seems fitting to provide some information on the history of Refugee Sponsorship in this country and specifically, in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land.

Canada is the first country in the world to have a refugee sponsorship programme where private citizens and the community are directly involved in the resettlement of refugees from abroad. It has become a model for other countries around the world.

The Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) Programme is a pioneering Canadian refugee resettlement programme. Through the PSR programme, Canadian citizens and permanent residents can engage in the resettlement of refugees from abroad. As the programme does not rely on public funds, it taps into the support of individuals and benevolent associations, faith communities, and ethnic groups to raise funds for the support of newcomers for their first year in Canada.

Who is a refugee?
The United Nations defines a refugee as a person who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reason of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his or her nationality, and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him or herself of the protection of that country.”

Sponsoring Refugees
The Canadian Immigration Act of 1976 established refugees as a class distinct from immigrants. Since then, Canada has offered resettlement to thousands of government-assisted refugees.

In 1979, in response to the needs of the world’s vulnerable people, the Diocese signed an Agreement with the Federal Government to sponsor some of the neediest refugees at the time – the Vietnamese “boat people.” Since then, for over 40 years, the Diocese has continued with this ministry through its congregations. Over seven thousand people have been brought to Canada by the Diocese since its inception. The Diocese, as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH), is one of over 120 agreement holders within Canada.

The Diocese’s sponsorship is carried out through Constituent Groups(CGs), usually churches or parishes, within the Diocese. The Diocese appoints a Refugee Coordinator who serves as a representative with Immigration, Refugee, Citizenship Canada (IRCC), and liaises with other organizations doing refugee sponsorship and resettlement work. Within the Diocese, the refugee coordinator provides information, encouragement, guidance, and support to CGs undertaking sponsorships.

Types of Sponsorships
There are different types of sponsorships from which private sponsors can choose to be involved.
Full Sponsorship –The CG/church becomes aware of a refugee and agrees to sponsor the person by providing full financial, social, and emotional support for up to one year after arrival.
Family-Link Sponsorship –A family already settled in Manitoba, requests a CG/church to sponsor family members who are refugees overseas. Often, these families are newcomers who arrived in Canada as refugees and, after establishing themselves in the community, wish to bring their relatives to Canada(the “echo effect”). The family agrees to provide full support to their family members after they arrive, with some help from the church congregation. The aim is to build new relationships with newcomers. This type of sponsorship makes up the largest group currently sponsored by the Diocese.

St Mary Magdalene Anglican Church
This parish is one of many churches within the Diocese that has sponsored refugees. In more recent years, sponsorship has been done through the Asian Christian Fellowship (ACF). In 2011, an agreement with the Bishop of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land to provide oversight through the rector of the church, allowed the ACF to use the church for monthly services in the Urdu language. This special relationship continues and the ACF brings forward applications for individuals fleeing Pakistan due to violations of religious freedom. This parish re-affirmed its desire to respond to requests from the ACF to sponsor persons in need in 2018. The last refugee application submitted to Immigration for the ACF was in 2018. We continue to wait for the approval and arrival of three sponsorship applications.

Responsibilities
Some of the tasks for the Refugee Coordinator include screening the CG/church and co-sponsors to ensure they have the capacity to fulfil their financial and settlement responsibilities, and that they are not a danger to the personal safety of the refugees. Training, oversight, and sharing of information is also provided. Record keeping and documentation of the financial and settlement support given to the refugee need to be maintained by the sponsors for the one-year undertaking or until the refugee becomes self-sufficient if that happens before the end of the sponsorship. The sponsoring group is encouraged to use the settlement agencies located in the community of settlement, which is funded by the provincial and federal governments.

When a request for sponsorship is made to the Refugee Coordinator, the total funds required to support the refugee for one year need to be available before the application is submitted to the Government. This policy, introduced in 2018, is an attempt from the Diocese to reduce the financial risk to itself and the church and to act in compliance with IRCC requirements.

The third statement in the Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion worldwide calls us to Respond to Human Need by Loving Service.

As the church community contemplates the ministry of refugee sponsorship, reflection the Gospel passage in Matthew 25: 35. “Living the Christian commitment to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless” (Diocese of Rupert’s Land).

Marlene Smith
Refugee Coordinator, Diocese of Rupert’s Land
Sources include reports from the Diocese of Rupert’s Land, St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church, and Immigration Refugee Citizenship Canada.

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