Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 26, 2009
Local Catholics open hearts to refugees
More than 4,000 refugees received sponsorship and support from CSS, archdiocesan parishes since 1979
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - Parishes sponsor refugees because of their commitment to welcoming a stranger, caring for the widowed, and reaching out to others in need, especially those living in the deplorable conditions of refugee camps.
Catholic Social Services and parishes throughout the Edmonton Archdiocese were recently honoured for their notable contributions to refugee sponsorship over the past 30 years. Msgr. John Hamilton, on behalf of the archdiocese, accepted an award from Citizenship and Immigration Canada on Oct. 13 at Canada Place.
42 MILLION DISPLACED PERSONS
There were about 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2008. This included 15.2 million refugees, 827,000 asylum-seekers and 26 million internally displaced persons. Developing countries are host to four-fifths of these totals.
"The refugee problem in our world is one of the greatest needs. If you look at the numbers, there are good people who would like to have a life, and they are sitting in refugee camps with nothing to do, nowhere to go," said Franciscan Father Dennis Vavrek, who has been helping refugees for three decades.
From the Vietnamese boat people to the Bosnian immigrants, more than 4,000 refugees have been sponsored by Edmontonians since the program's inception in 1979.
Across the country, through government and private sponsorship, close to half a million refugees have been brought into Canada. About 7,300 per year are government-sponsored and 3,500 sponsored privately.
"A lot of things you do in life, you don't see the fruits of it for a long time, and maybe never in your lifetime. Some of the ministry you do, the teachings, the preaching - people are in your life and out of your life," said Vavrek.
But when helping refugees, the fulfillment is immediate, tangible and long lasting.
"The hope has been restored in their lives - and you see it. They are learning English, they're moving forward and the fruitfulness is there immediately."
Groups of five or more individuals sponsor a refugee. These sponsorship groups usually are formed within parishes, but also include other churches and ethnic organizations.
Depending on the size of the family, the contribution might be $30,000 or more to sponsor a family.
"Sponsorship means that the sponsoring group must provide full financial support for the people being sponsored for up to one year," said Paulette Johnson, program coordinator for Catholic Social Services' refugee sponsorship program.
The sponsor's obligation is to at least match the income support that government-assisted refugees receive, which is about the equivalent of welfare.
"When you sponsor a single person or a family it starts right with their arrival, and you meet them at the airport. Then they need to have a plan.
"Where is this family going to stay until we (Catholic Social Services) can actually get an apartment for them to live in? They must also look at getting them the furniture that they require. They come with nothing," said Johnson.
When Maureen Gouveia joined the social justice group at St. Thomas More Parish, she learned of a Somali woman with six children and another on the way.
She offered to help this woman and her children learn English, and that was her initiation into refugee sponsorship.
SHE MUST REPAY MONEY
The Canadian government paid for the family's flight over with the stipulation that the mother would repay the money.
"She was pregnant with her seventh child, didn't speak English, and she owed over $10,000 for her flight, so she was really behind the eight ball," said Gouveia.
To be eligible for sponsorship, an individual must have fled his or her country due to civil war, armed conflict or massive violations of human rights, or have a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social or political group.
"The family we are sponsoring now was in a camp for 16 years, and from the time they applied, it took almost five years to get them here. When they arrived, they had all kinds of health problems," said Gouveia.
Since Canadian industries have been known to dump waste in Somalia, pollute beaches in developing nations and sell them guns to support their wars, Gouveia believes that it's only right that Canada takes responsibility to help those in other countries.
YES WE CAN
"Some people feel that we shouldn't be taking them in, dragging us down, dragging our economy down. There are people who are quite negative about it all.
"I really think it should be pointed out that we take in far less refugees than we promised we would. We certainly have the capacity in Canada to help out," she said.
From the time the refugees arrive, they are permanent Canadian residents. By that time, the documentation, interviews, security checks, medical checks and reviews of their eligibility to live here have been gone through thoroughly.
When the program was established, many Vietnamese boat people were sponsored. There were other conflicts in Central America and Eastern Europe.
In the 1990s, local parishes were active in sponsoring refugees from conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Over the years, Catholic parishes and organizations have sponsored refugees from about 50 countries.
Today, Pakistan is host to the largest number of refugees worldwide, about 1.8 million.
Currently, there are conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan. As well, many who fled Iraq after the U.S. invasion are in Syria, leaving that country overwhelmed, Johnson said.
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