It has been a quiet year while awaiting the arrival of our third (and final) Syrian family. Unfortunately, Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) notified us in August 2018 that the family we had chosen two years ago did not meet the requirements because they had returned to Syria and therefore no longer qualified as refugees. Given that it would take years to appeal this ruling, our group has decided to begin looking for another family to sponsor through the Blended Visa Office-Referred program - which means the family is pre-approved and hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for them to arrive in Canada.
We have already sponsored two refugee families through the generosity of those both in and outside the congregation. Our first family of 7 arrived in Feb. 2016, the second family of 5 in August 2016. Although FirstU is no longer responsible for these families because the year of legal sponsorship is over, we have formed many strong ties between them and the volunteers. Visits and social events are ongoing and both families have adapted well to their new Canadian life: the fathers are working hard in their full time jobs, everyone has learned basic English and the children are all enjoying school/daycare. We also worked with a Canadian Syrian family with whom we co-sponsored their relatives who arrived in September 2016. And we sent $10,000 to another UU congregation to help support a transgender refugee, whose sponsorship with a private outside group had fallen apart.
We helped two private groups from outside the congregation to settle Syrian families as well. The groups raised their own funds that FirstU managed for them. Both families arrived in December 2016. We are currently working with another external group called the Boat of Hope, whose sponsored family should be arriving sometime before winter. This family just had a new baby so a new set of forms were required by IRCC.
For the most part, settlement for all the families has gone well, although we have had some challenges helping families to budget, adjust to Canadian values, and deal with the trauma of living through war.
Volunteers have been incredibly dedicated to helping the families succeed in their new land. Volunteer teams provide all the necessary settlement support ranging from finding and furnishing accommodations, to getting children registered at school, to connecting the family to resources such as ESL and health services, to helping ease adaptation to our culture, and more.
Stay tuned for the next chapter...