Refugee sponsorship: responding to the refugee crisis in Syria and around the world

CLWR’s Development Manager for Refugee Resettlement, Fikre Tsehai, reflects on the refugee crisis in the world today, the Canadian Lutheran response, and highlights some ways congregations can help by sponsoring refugees.

Refugee sponsorships by Canadian Lutheran World Relief are at a record high since the Kosovo crisis in the late 1990s.

With the escalation of humanitarian crises in parts of the Middle East and particularly in Syria, the number of refugees and internally displaced people (IDP) in the world today is as high as it was during the Second World War. That number is difficult to imagine: 60 million people.

The number of Syrian refugees outside Syria alone has exceeded four million. Over eight million people are displaced inside that country.

The Syrian refugee movement has tragically become a protracted one with no durable solution in sight and with no hope of a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is engaged in the largest resettlement of Syrian refugees to countries including Canada. Out of the 100,000 Syrian refugees the UNHCR is planning to resettle, Canada has pledged to take in 10,000 of them over the course of three years. With the increased attention to the refugee crisis, that number may change.

CLWR has already sponsored 254 refugees this year from several different countries, together with Lutheran churches and with family members of refugees already in Canada.

We have been actively participating in Canada’s plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees. As such, 124 Syrians have been sponsored to date. We have also sponsored 84 Iraqis.

The other area that CLWR has been actively pursuing is the Blended Visa Office Referred (BVOR) initiative.

The BVOR initiative is a cost-sharing sponsorship program with the Canadian government. The government covers six months of financial support for the refugees and sponsoring churches and/or constituent groups cover the remaining six months of financial support.

Under the BVOR program, Lutheran churches and three of our constituent groups (NEST in Saskatoon, Parish Care Centre in BC and NEST in Winnipeg) have sponsored 18 refugees from Burma, Colombia, Iran and Iraq.

A young family from Burma who came to Canada under the BVOR program. They arrived in Vancouver on July 29, 2015.

A young family from Burma who came to Canada under the BVOR program. They arrived in Vancouver on July 29, 2015.

We encourage Lutheran churches interested in sponsorship to be involved in the BVOR program because they benefit from the cost-sharing arrangement with the government. Refugees under this program also arrive in Canada fairly quickly because they have already been approved for resettlement.

Of all the vulnerable persons who flee persecution in the Middle East, the needs of Syrian and Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities need to be highlighted.  It is evident that religious and ethnic minorities have gone through or witnessed abhorrent violence by extremists. Here is an example of a horrific experience as told by a Syrian youth: “I explained to them [the extremists] why I converted to Christianity. When I returned to my home a few hours later, they had killed my mother, my father, my two sisters and my brother.”[1]

With escalating violence and the resulting displacement in the world, let us continue to be in mission for others by sponsoring refugees and give them a beacon of hope.

For those interested in sponsoring refugees to come to Canada, please contact Fikre Tsehai, CLWR’s Development Manager for Refugee Resettlement, at 1.888.588.6686, or Jennifer Ardon, CLWR’s Project Officer for Refugee Resettlement, at 1.888.255.0150. Or visit our website for more information:

[1] A Syrian youth during an interview with a delegation of the US Catholic Bishops to Syria

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