CANADIAN AUGUSTINIAN CENTRE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
NATIONAL CATHOLIC REFUGEE SPONSORS’
The Canadian Augustinian Centre for Social Justice along with several other groups, agencies, sponsorship holders and individuals have joined together to form a “National Catholic Refugee Sponsors’ Network”. In Canada, the main groups which sponsor refugees are faith-based – the Anglican and United Churches and others. The Canadian Catholic Church’s approach to work with refugees has been fragmented, lacking a vision and a systematic approach. There are individuals, parishes, groups and dioceses working to sponsor and help settle refugees but they all do it alone. The Augustinian Centre, in conjunction with local, provincial and national bodies has come to realize that there would be great benefit if there were a national network of those involved in refugee sponsorship and settlement.
THE STATE OF REFUGEE SPONSORSHIP IN CANADA
In Canada there is both Government and private sponsored refugee processes. The Catholic Church in Canada has collaborated with the Canadian Government to sponsor Christians from countries such as Iraq, Syria, and places in Africa. These are “private” sponsorships. In order for a parish or diocese to sponsor a refugee there must be a Government recognized Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH). Recent statistics tell us that newcomers to Canada settle in one of three major areas – Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. The fact is many dioceses in Canada could accept more refugees but they either do not have a SAH agreement or have let it lapse. Several dioceses have departments of social justice or community development that has refugee sponsorship as part of their portfolio. Only a few dioceses have a department or agency fully dedicated to refugee sponsorship.
Private sponsorship is a complex process which involves many volunteers and several steps. It is truly a community development project and one that can bring a parish and community together in a meaningful way. These are some of the steps in this process: the file on a family that has claimed refugee status is to be obtained from the SAH, a parish committee would be formed, a settlement plan needs to be developed, the community or parish will to be made aware of the sponsorship plan, there needs to be continual communication with Canadian Embassy officials overseas and in Canada, funds will have to be raised because the sponsor is financially responsible for the family for one year from the date of arrival in Canada, local community agencies and settlement specialists need to be involved, the newcomers then register with the various social services in Canada, and the whole process would ideally be coordinated by one or two people with a great deal of dedication and time.
WHAT IS A REFUGEE?
According to the United Nations, a refugee is a “person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”.
For example, Christians who have been persecuted in Iraq have fled the country and sought protection under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). They may have gone to Syria, or Turkey and live in a zone protected by the UN. They then apply to the Canadian Embassy to come to Canada as a refuge and await a sponsor. The Government of Canada then seeks out SAH’s to accept these files and begin the sponsorship process.
WHY A NETWORK?
In December, 2012 the Augustinian Centre helped to organize a National Conference on Refugee Sponsorship and Settlement in Toronto, Ontario. This conference brought together individuals and representatives from parishes, lay organizations, dioceses, Canadian Catholic Bishops Conference, United States Conference of Bishops, the Canadian Government and many others. One of the goals of this conference was to bring people together to discover the national picture of Catholic refugee sponsorship in Canada. It was also intended to begin formulating the idea of a national network that would be able, on a systems level, to communicate issues and concerns to the national Government and the Canadian Bishops. The precedent had already been set by other faith-based groups (Anglicans, United Church etc.). It is believed that, in order for systematic change to occur, the Catholic Church needs to speak with one voice.
It was at this December meeting that Thomas Cardinal Collins of Toronto and representatives from the Federal Government encouraged and supported the idea of establishing a national Catholic refugee sponsorship group. Brian Dwyer, director of the Centre, was chosen to serve on the planning committee for the establishment of this network, and is one of the organizers of the national meeting in Vancouver May to formally establish this network.
The vision of the network is one of collaboration, support and communication. Some of the objectives for this network include the following:
- a) Provide a central location for enquiries regarding Catholic sponsorship in Canada
- b) Serve as a resource centre for those seeking information, referrals, contacts or research on sponsorship
- c) Increase awareness of the need for more sponsors in many and various dioceses across Canada
- d) Provide support for dioceses, parishes and groups as they become involved in refugee sponsorship
- e) Establish a central point of reference for both the Canadian Catholic Bishops Conference (CCCB) and the Federal Government
- f) Create a communication system to the CCCB and the Government from the dioceses and parishes involved in refugee sponsorship
- g) Collaborate with the CCCB in carrying out the gospel values and teachings to serve and help those who are marginalized
- h) Advocate for refugees by defining and bringing forth issues, concerns and problems to the Federal Government and proactively putting forth policy and process recommendations
- i) Increase the skills and abilities of Catholic sponsoring groups and organizations in terms of
Government regulations, practices and processes so that the network can provide a clearing house for news, information, resources and education
THE CHRISTIAN FAITH PERSPECTIVE
The Christian tradition of the Old and New Testaments contains many references to migration and being outside of one’s homeland and the suffering this causes. The Israelites travelled for many years away from their homeland. Jesus himself, as an infant, was an immigrant fleeing to Egypt. Pope Benedict XVI, in his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2013 spoke of migrations as pilgrimages of faith and hope. He says that “many migrants, who deeply desire a better life, not infrequently try to leave behind the “hopelessness” of an unpromising future”. The Pope speaks directly to us and says that the Church and her various agencies ought to avoid offering charitable services alone; they are also called to promote real integration in a society where all are active members and responsible for one another’s welfare, generously offering a creative contribution and rightfully sharing in the same rights and duties.
At the 6th World Congress on Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees in 2010, their final statement says that migration is an invitation to imagine a different future. Welcoming the stranger, the refugee, is an act of the development of humanity, the unity of the human family, to demonstrate solidarity and full respect for the dignity of all human life.
There are several recommendations from the World Congress. Some of the more prominent include:
- 1) That Church structures be strengthened and developed through increased collaboration and networking between bishops of host and originating countries
- 2) That specific courses offering a better understanding of migration and the refugee phenomenon be included in the formation of priests and religious
- 3) That a National Episcopal Commission for the pastoral care of migrants and refugees be created, or a Bishop Promoter be appointed
- 4) That the Church develop and increase its cooperation with governments, civil society and local authorities in catering to migrant’s needs and advocating for their dignity and rights
- 5) The local Church should work more closely with local and national government policymakers in the service of migrants and refugees
- 6) The Church should establish communication networks for information-gathering purposes, protection issues and activities that might be beneficial to local communities
The formation of this Catholic Sponsors’ Network in Canada is a vital step in the process of systemic change in Government and the Church to “welcome the stranger”.