Toronto-based not-for-profit organization Lifeline Syria has been at the forefront of efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Canada. Launched at the end of June, its target is to resettle 1,000 refugees in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) within the next two years.
Peter Goodspeed, a volunteer with Lifeline Syria, explains that in order to accomplish this great task they need to recruit and train private sponsorship groups who have volunteered to bring families to Canada.
Over the past few months, the group has been fundraising and getting the word out through local community and faith-based organizations. Corporations have also been approaching the organization, interested in helping out Syrian refugees.
The most recent Lifeline Syria meeting in Oakville had 150 groups, according to Goodspeed. If each group took a family of four to five people, they’d be close to achieving their objective right off the bat. Lifeline Syria still has to connect with communities in Scarborough and north of Toronto, as well as places at the edge of the GTA like Ajax and Oshawa.
Once the refugees have settled in Canada, the sponsors have a commitment to them for one year.
With a recent influx in volunteers, the organization has been hosting meetings to introduce these potential sponsors to the system, showing them how to fill out the applications and how to prepare themselves to qualify for sponsorship. Right now, it can take anywhere from one to two years to process applications.
Since 2013, the government has brought 2,302 Syrian refugees to Canada.
Easing the transition
After the daunting task of approvals and documentation has cleared, a new set of challenges awaits the refugees and their sponsoring group.
Once the refugees have settled in Canada, the sponsors have a commitment to them for one year. They are responsible for providing the refugees with food, shelter and clothing. They will also try to help them get established, find jobs and learn to speak English.
Beyond the time spent helping these families, the price tag attached to sponsorship is steep. It can cost a sponsoring group approximately $27,000 to $30,000 annually to sponsor a family of four.
Lifeline Syria is currently putting together a handbook for sponsors to be posted to their website in mid-October that will walk sponsors through the process of guiding newly arrived refugees.
While he acknowledges the great efforts Lifeline Syria is making to help refugees, Don Curry, executive director of the North Bay Multicultural Centre, would like to see the federal government focus on relocating Syrian families in smaller city centres across the country, rather than in the GTA.
According to Curry, Toronto is “bursting [at] the seams,” and other areas of the country might benefit more from receiving refugees, who would support population growth and fill available jobs.
The North Bay Multicultural Centre, like many similar centres, has programs in place to help transition all newcomers into Canadian culture. Conversation circles and social events take place throughout the year, as well as mentorship programs in which refugees may be paired with people in the same field of study in order to help them find employment.
Curry says these kinds of programs reflect the “strength of a smaller city.”
“The politicians are sitting around debating numbers; the people generally are saying, ‘No, it’s time we did something.’”
“We’ve got lots of volunteers just eager to help,” he declares.
“The more, the merrier”
Despite the mechanics set in place to receive refugees, Curry believes it’s going to be quite some time before Syrian families actually arrive in North Bay. Currently, there aren’t any.
The northeastern Ontario city of Timmins is working to resettle just one Syrian family.
“It’s just a matter of getting the funds, doing the paperwork and making sure we have our place in line,” Curry says when asked to explain these numbers. “If there’s a matching system like the province is talking about, we could probably bring in more families.”
When asked about the reasons behind this mismatch, Goodspeed said, “The politicians are sitting around debating numbers; the people generally are saying, ‘No, it’s time we did something.’”
He believes public policy will ultimately be affected by the refugee crisis down the road, since “the people are pushing the government’s hand on this.”
Beyond saving lives, Goodspeed is convinced that bringing in Syrian refugees will “probably make Canada a much better place than it is, and the Middle East will be a lot safer too.” The displacement that has taken place in Syria is enormous, and the strain it has put on neighbouring countries is, says Goodspeed, “dangerous to the region and to world peace.”
While some have doubts about bringing in refugees from the Middle East, Goodspeed doesn’t think settling Syrians in Canada will jeopardize security – children make up half of registered refugees. Goodspeed believes we as a nation will have “far more serious security problems in the future than if we just step in and try to help these people now.”
Curry stands strong with Goodspeed, declaring wholeheartedly that there is plenty of room in Canada: “The more, the merrier.”