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Seva Refugee Resettlement Pilot Project

“We don’t have a refugee crisis. We have an empathy crisis.”
Gord Perks

Summary

Seva Food Bank (Sikhs Serving Canada) is pleased to launch the Seva Refugee Settlement Pilot project. In partnership with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Ontario, our Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH), we will bring four refugee families before the end of 2018 and settle them in the Peel region. The settlement funding is provided by the Government of Canada and the Shapiro Foundation. We will be responsible for supporting these families for their first 12 months in Canada. 

For more information contact us at refugee@sevafoodbank.com.

Background

Global and Canadian Context: Operation Sponsor Surge & BVOR Fund

In the past year, the number refugees resettled worldwide has decreased drastically from 126,000 to 65,000, yet the amount of people in urgent need of a safe place to call home grows daily.

Canada approved more than 1500 refugees abroad for resettlement in 2018 through a special sponsorship program called the Blended Visa Office Referred (BVOR) Program. All that was needed was Canadians stepping up to provide some practical and financial assistance as refugee sponsors.

In short, the BVOR program is a uniquely Canadian opportunity for private citizens to be involved in sponsoring refugees and share the settlement costs with the federal government. The government pays almost half of the resettlement costs. In addition, all refugees on the BVOR list are approved for resettlement and are travel ready. This means there is significantly less paperwork, and the sponsored refugees will arrive within 1 to 3 months. Sponsors are also able to choose a profile from the BVOR list of refugees. Profiles include specific information such as family size, country of origin, etc.

When Seva was contacted, these 1000 resettlement spaces were are at risk of being lost in 2018. If a pre-approved case is not picked up within this special program, we lose that spot in Canada’s annual resettlement quota, and the number of refugees brought to safety around the world drops.

So it was crucial that refugees identified through the BVOR program were able to be matched quickly with Canadian sponsors. The Refugee Hub – in partnership with Refugee 613, the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program, and Amnesty International Canada – mobilized to create Operation Sponsor Surge, a national initiative to urgently identify and recruit new sponsors to settle refugees on the BVOR list.

In addition, to support the resettlement of as many BVOR refugees as possible in 2018, the Refugee Hub, the Shapiro Foundation, and Jewish Family Services Ottawa set up the BVOR Fund. This fund was a time-bound funding source that covers 100% of the sponsor’s portion of the BVOR sponsorship costs for all applications submitted before the end of September 2018. 

So in June 2018, the Seva Food Bank was contacted by Refugee Hub to explore how they, and the larger Sikh-Canadian community, could participate in these important and urgent efforts.

Sikh-Canadian Context

ਨੀਚਾ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਨੀਚ ਜਾਤਿ ਨੀਚੀ ਹੂ ਅਤਿ ਨੀਚੁ ॥
ਨਾਨਕੁ ਤਿਨ ਕੈ ਸੰਗਿ ਸਾਥਿ ਵਡਿਆ ਸਿਉ ਕਿਆ ਰੀਸ ॥
ਜਿਥੈ ਨੀਚ ਸਮਾਲੀਅਨਿ ਤਿਥੈ ਨਦਰਿ ਤੇਰੀ ਬਖਸੀਸ ॥੪॥੩॥

Nīcẖā anḏar nīcẖ jāṯ nīcẖī hū aṯ nīcẖ.
Nānak ṯin kai sang sāth vadi▫ā si▫o ki▫ā rīs.
Jithai nīcẖ samālī▫an ṯithai naḏar ṯerī bakẖsīs. ||4||3||  

Nanak seeks the company of the most marginalized, the very lowest of the low.
Nanak is with marginalized, not emulating the established and entitled.
In that place where the lowly are cared for – there, the blessings of Your glance of Divine Grace rain down. ||4||3||

Guru Nanak Sahib (from Ang 15 of Sri Guru Granth Sahib)

Sikhs have been in Canada for over 100 years. As our population has grown exponentially in the last three decades, many have arrived in this country as refugees fleeing religious persecution and economic discrimination in India. Hundreds of thousands of Sikh-Canadians can trace their migration journey to the genocide of 1984. In particular, a ship carrying 174 Sikh refugees landed in Shelburne, Nova Scotia in July 1987 and was warmly received by local Canadians. Canadian Sikhs have struggled hard to become a prosperous community and we now contribute to all aspects of Canadian society.

Unfortunately, not all Sikhs around the world enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities as we do in Canada. In particular, Sikhs (and Hindus) in Afghanistan have had to live through very tough circumstances in the last 20 years. Once a thriving population of well over 200,000, Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan now number less than 2,000. Daily persecution and discrimination have forced many of them to flee the country and those left behind face increasing difficult circumstances. Supporting the efforts launched by the late Manmeet Singh Bhullar, the World Sikh Organization (WSO) has coordinated the private sponsorship applications of 200 Afghan Sikh refugees in India who are awaiting approval. A targeted ISIS attack on July 1st that killed 19 Afghani Sikhs and Hindus has only increased the urgency felt by the Sikh diaspora to support the local community and for Canadian politicians to expedite the applications of the privately sponsored families.

Two central themes of Sikh political ideology are Sarbat Da Bhala (the wellbeing of all humanity) and Panth Ki Jit (a successful, thriving and ‘victorious’ Sikh community). Our nearly five hundred and fifty year history informs us that we are at our best when we work towards the betterment of all society and particularly those who are the most vulnerable and marginalized. Simply put, when we take care of everyone, we take care of our own. Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom to protect freedom of religion and conscience, directly protested oppression against the Kashmiri Hindu Pandits and, in turn, advanced the sovereignty of the Sikhs in South Asia. Our langars or community kitchens serve anyone of any faith who needs a meal and, in turn, no Sikh goes hungry.

We have another opportunity to follow in the footsteps of our forefathers and foremothers. As we advocate to bring over the Afghan Sikhs, we can leverage the goodwill of half a million Canadian Sikhs to sponsor and settle other refugees from around the world fleeing the most horrible and tragic of circumstances. We can build a network of enthusiastic supporters and gain firsthand experience in settling refugee families.  We can live our values of sarbat da bhala and seva (selfless service). By serving humanity, we’ll lay the groundwork for helping our own.  

Over time, this pilot initiative can grow into an institution in its own right. By developing our capacity to resettle families in crisis from around the world we will also be able to resettle Sikhs in a self-reliant manner.

Seva Refugee Resettlement Pilot Project

The Families

We can committed to sponsoring and settling four refugee families over the next year. Here’s what we know about them:

  1. Family of 6 (2 parents, 4 children aged 9-14 years) originally from Syria, currently in Jordan.
  2. Family of 6 (2 parents, 4 children aged 9-18 years) originally from Syria, now in Turkey.
  3. Family of 5 (2 parents, 3 children aged 2-7 years) originally from Syria, now in Jordan.
  4. Family of 3 (1 parent, 2 children) originally from Colombia, now residing in Ecuador.

These families have been identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as particularly vulnerable in their current conditions and have been referred to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

The families will all arrive between October 30th and November 15th, 2018.

The Settlement Process

Here are some of the activities we are helping the families with as they settle into their new communities. We’ve been doing many of these activities for our clients at Seva Food Bank for many years. Now we just get to do them all for each refugee family.

  1. Arrival Day: Greet families at airport and welcome to Canada
  2. Housing: Arrange for permanent housing, and temporary housing if needed
  3. Transportation arrangements: Meet the sponsored refugees upon arrival, provide transportation to their temporary or permanent accommodation, and transportation to and from appointments and activities
  4. Interpreter services (if applicable): to facilitate communication with doctors, bank employees, teachers, etc.
  5. Orientation to help sponsored refugees settle in the community and become independent (e.g. using household appliances, opening a bank account, using public transportation, shopping for food, clothes, and household effects, visiting schools, getting medication from the pharmacy, etc.)
  6. School registration: Enroll children in school (if applicable); IRCC-funded Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS), if available in your area, may assist with school registration
  7. Language training: Sponsors should bring the adult sponsored refugees to their nearest language assessment centre soon after arrival to have their language levels assessed so that they can be referred to a language training course that meets their language training needs
  8. Paperwork: Links to essential federal/provincial programs: Assist with the application for Social Insurance Numbers (SIN), Interim Federal Health (IFH), provincial health coverage, and the Canada Child Benefit
  9. Health Care: Assist with finding a family physician, dentist, etc.
  10. Employment: Provide support in finding employment, and/or link to appropriate employment-related services
  11. Childcare: Make arrangements if children are not of school age and/or require day care
  12. Community Resources: Provide information about and linkages to the settlement services that are available in the community of settlement

Settlement Committee

We have created a separate team of staff and volunteers for this project. The team meets regularly to coordinate all of the settlement activities for the family before and after their arrival. For more information on getting involved or donating please contact us at refugee@sevafoodbank.com.

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