Welcoming Newcomers – Canadians’ Pride!- By Bekele Woyecha
Canada has been at the forefront of refugee welcome in the past many decades. Its private sponsorship of newcomers has been hailed by many. This success story has attracted the attention of many in the past few years. That was partly the reason why The Citizens UK delegation composed of Nick Coke, Tim Finch and Bekele Woyecha visited Ottawa and Toronto from 24th to 30th July 2017 to learn about the refugee sponsorship program Canada is known for. The delegation was also there to build relationships with Canadian refugee sponsors, sponsorship agreement holders, trainers, advocacy groups and fellow newcomers. The visit was an opportunity to see Canada’s decades of experience of welcoming newcomers through sponsorship and pave ways for further collaboration with those who have made this possible.
The visit started at the Immigration Refugee and Citizenship Canada office in central Ottawa. Having had a constructive discussion at the IRCC, as it is referred in Canada, the delegation’s next task in the agenda was to visit the Lebanese and Arab Social Services Agency. This was followed by a short break and an engaging event at The Ottawa Muslim Association. Good fellowship, mouth-watering food and strong relationship struck by the end of the first day.
Next in the agenda was to visit the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa and a private sponsor and learn from their decades of experience. The pride in the faces of those present was extremely encouraging and the stories they shared with us will last long in our memories. This was followed by a visit to Salvation Army team at Ottawa Citadel - a Salvation Army church and community centre. This visit gave us the opportunity to hear directly from those who are engaged in sponsorship and helping those seeking sanctuary locally. Two days gone. Lots learnt and lots of relationships struck.
The third day in Ottawa involved meeting with colleagues at the Refugee Hub, Refugee 613 and The Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative. This meeting took place at the University of Ottawa, an iconic university at the heart of the city. Emilie Coyle of the Hub welcomed the delegation and presented the work of the Refugee Hub and the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program. It was encouraging to hear that 1300 lawyers were available to extend help on pro bono basis. The next to share amazing stories of welcoming newcomers was Louisa Taylor of Refugee 613. Louisa said, “It takes a group to sponsor newcomers; it takes a village to integrate them”. Well said and inspirational.
The delegation also visited and held discussions with the following organisations both in Ottawa and Toronto, The Catholic Centre for Immigrants, Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization, Refugee Sponsorship Training Program, Humanity First Canada and Syrian Action Volunteers. Each of these organisations had unique stories to share with us. They all extended their Canadian welcome and promised to avail themselves if we needed their help. “Don’t get overwhelmed; take time to introduce the scheme and get it right” was the advice of Dr. Aslam Daud of Humanity First Canada. Thanking all for their contributions, help and advice, we returned to London with lots of food for thought. The journey towards launching a foundation that will promote community sponsorship of refugees has now begun.