January 25, 2016
MICHAEL SWAN
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

TORONTO - As thousands of Syrian refugees land in Canada, Catholic settlement agencies are asking governments for money and programs to help our newest neighbours build successful lives.

Catholic Cross-Cultural Services of Toronto has renewed calls for Ottawa to revive its abandoned Host program, which would pave the way for more volunteers to help new arrivals navigate life in Canada.

"There are many, many people who are very interested in doing something to support the Syrian refugees. They may not have the time, energy or financial wherewithal to become a sponsor, but there may be other things that they could offer," said Carolyn Davis, executive director of Catholic Cross-Cultural Services.

The federal government funded Host programs from 1990 to 2008 that served more than 18,000 immigrants. The programs organized volunteers who would befriend both refugees and other immigrants.

The idea was that through these friendships the new arrivals would form social networks that could help them improve their English and lead them to jobs and other opportunities.

How well and how quickly refugee arrivals are integrated into Canadian life has been highlighted by a recent federal government report that shows refugees sponsored by churches and other volunteer groups fare much better than those sponsored by the government.

PRIVATE SPONSORSHIP

More than half of privately-sponsored refugees reported employment income in their first year in Canada, compared to just 14 per cent for government-assisted refugees, according to the report.

It isn't until year nine that the employment rate evens out.

Getting the Host programs back up and running, "would certainly assist refugees in settling more quickly and more successfully," Davis said.

Citizenship and Immigration officials claim merging the Host program into other programs in 2008 didn't stop settlement agencies from organizing volunteers to help new arrivals.