Earlier this year, a group of philanthropists responded to an urgent request from the government for help in bringing 685 refugees to Canada by the end of the year.
They committed $3.5 million to cover the costs of settling 175 families who, except for their help, would have remained stuck in United Nations refugee camps.
The B.C.-based Giustra Foundation and the Massachusetts-based Shapiro Foundation took the lead in recruiting six others to raise the money and worked with the University of Ottawa Refugee Hub and Jewish Family Services to find 150 volunteer groups to do the work of getting the families settled.
The families are coming from a variety of countries including Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of the 175 families, 37 are to come to B.C. with 29 of them already here.
Next week, a single mother with two children is to arrive from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country with one of the highest child-mortality rates in the world, where life expectancy is 49½ years.
Another single mom from the Congo with four children will be arriving shortly, but her sponsor group is having a hard time finding housing for them.
These are all families identified by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as being among the most desperately in need of resettlement.
But getting them here has cost Canada more effort than all of the other refugees who have come.
The foundations stepped up with one-time contributions only after the government was faced with a crisis this summer.
At a time when the number of refugees is climbing at a numbing rate and the United States has slashed the number of refugees to the lowest level in 40 years, Canada had pledged to bring 1,500 refugees under the Blended Visa Office Referred program. But by August, only 500 sponsors had stepped up.
The government essentially went begging to foundations and private sponsorship groups for the money it needed.
The program, known as BVOR, is as ungainly as its name. A hybrid, it blends elements of the hugely popular private sponsorship program and the government-assisted refugee program.
Like the close to 7,500 government-assisted refugees who will have arrived by the end of 2018, BVORs are chosen based on need by visa officers working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Refugees under the blended program have their costs paid by donors while volunteers providing practical, social and emotional support. Government-assisted refugees are supported by the government.
The majority of refugees — double the numbers of government-assisted and BVORs combined — are privately sponsored.
Groups of five or more individuals, faith groups and communities pay all of the settlement costs, including housing, food and clothing. But their sponsored families don’t come through the UN refugee program. They are not the most desperate and may not have the highest needs.
Sponsors can submit the name of a refugee or refugee family that they would like to sponsor. This can include friends, family members or community members, as long as they qualify as refugees under the international convention.
It’s a choice that few sponsors want to give up since most are inundated with requests from former refugees to help them reunite with family.
“It’s wonderful that a number of foundations came forward,” said Chris Friesen, director of B.C. Immigrant Services Society.
But given the time and energy the government put into finding donors and sponsors, he questioned why the government didn’t just add those additional desperate families to the government-assisted refugee program.
“The crux of it is that the government is saving money,” he said. “Now, private foundations are propping up the government’s responsibility to fund refugee programs and the government’s resettlement scheme is already less than half that of private sponsorships.”
In each of the next two years, the government’s targets for private sponsorships increase by an average of 1,000, reaching 20,000 by 2020 — double the number the government projects bringing under its assistance program. Its targets for BVOR are also increasing every year to a high of 3,000 in 2020.
The need for resettlement has never been greater. Only 102,800 refugees have been resettled worldwide this year.
But there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people and 25.4 million UNHCR registered refugees. And, of the displaced, 85 per cent are in countries that are struggling to provide for their own citizens.
Canadians’ compassion and willingness to welcome the most desperate and most vulnerable is obvious in the rescue of the 685 refugees, just as it is in the strong, continued support for private sponsorships.
Still, the slow uptake on the BVOR program not only raises questions about the program design, but about whether individuals and non-profits are reaching full capacity for giving and whether Canadian attitudes toward refugees are hardening just as they are in the United States.
Note from WSOE.Org : This content has been auto-generated from a syndicated feed.