Thursday, November 12, 2015

Room for More -- Sponsoring a Syrian Refugee Family

If social media is good for anything other than Drake Parody Videos, it's good for bringing people together who unexpectedly share interests and concerns.  Our group started with a facebook post at the beginning of September, 2015, amid a wave of stories about the desperation of refugees fleeing Syria.  A somewhat random group of Toronto co-workers, relatives, neighbours and friends got together on September 6 to talk about what we could do locally, and  we decided to try rolling out the welcome mat of Canada's Private Sponsorship of Refugees program.  Launched in 1979, this program has apparently brought over 225,000 refugees to Canada over the years. Any group of 5+ Canadian citizens or permanent residents can play. We'll tell the story here in case you're thinking of doing this as well (or in case you're outside Canada and wondering how it works, and whether you could get a system like this started where you are).

We heard the process would be very difficult and slow, but our experience hasn't been like that (so far).  We filled out our Request for Refugee Profile form and mailed it in to the Central Processing Office in Winnipeg on September 9. Told that we were supposed to hear back within 30 days, we braced ourselves for an 11-month wait.  We heard back on October 6 from the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program in Scarborough (Scarborough? ok!) that our file had been forwarded there to help us with the matching.

RSTP walked us through a webinar on sponsorship and invited us to choose a line from an anonymized spreadsheet of refugees needing aid.  The spreadsheet was somewhat heart-stopping: a long list of family sizes, this time all in Lebanon, many of them with the notation that someone in the family had a medical condition. As a group, we'd agreed to take a family of five, so we picked the first family of five we saw, and waited for their file. On October 14 we got two anonymized files to choose from: a family of four (where did they come from?), and the family of five we'd picked, which turned out to have a catch. It was the file of a single mom with four children, but she also had an adult son who was a principal applicant in his own right, so he was a separate file, linked by a request to be settled together with his mother and siblings. Who could resist that?  RSTP forwarded our choice back to Winnipeg, and we got the private identifying details from these two files (names, dates of birth) on October 30. With this information we were in position to file an Application/Undertaking to Sponsor for each of our files, together with a stack of other exciting forms, like the Settlement Plan, and the inevitable Checklist that asks you to confirm that you have submitted all the documents, including that very Checklist itself (the forms and instructions are described in loving detail in the Canadian government guide to this, with extra tips in the RSTP guide). 

Syrian Refugees at a Camp in Lebanon (yes, that's snow)
Our family is from the Blended Visa Office Referred list.  "Blended" means that they get some government support as well as our support: for six months of their first year they will receive about $1000/month from the federal government. BVOR refugees have been identified by Canadian visa offices overseas as those most in need: especially vulnerable individuals like our single mother with five children.

RSTP told us that we could go ahead either as a Group of 5, or in partnership with a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (or SAH, pronounced "saw"). One key advantage of the SAH route is that they can manage the funds raised by groups, establishing a donation account and issuing tax receipts. We chose Humanity First, an almost exclusively volunteer-run charity in Vaughan.  When they're not too busy running their foodbank, clean water, disaster relief and orphan care programs, they squeeze in a little time for refugees.  They were great with us, responding immediately to an email and setting up an appointment to review our papers and take us on as a constituent group. (Note: you fill out a different version of the forms as a constituent group vs G5 -- if you are just getting started, start with a date with your SAH, because that way you'll know which paperwork is going to work.)  Humanity First went over our forms (on a Sunday afternoon, after we emailed them on Saturday), and got our signed and approved papers out the door to Winnipeg on November 11, exactly 9 weeks after we mailed our initial request. We've heard that Winnipeg is super at the next step, clearing applications within a week, and then after that the word goes over to Beirut to get the family booked on a flight to Toronto.  Everyone keeps asking when they will come, and we don't know yet, but we are supposed to get 10 days' notice.

Now we just face the terror of finding and furnishing an affordable apartment in Toronto. Any leads, let us know... .


  1. Just wanted to say hi and kudos for your efforts - we're trying to do the same thing in Mississauga (here's our Facebook page: ) - Best wishes all around (especially for the lodging, yikes! :) )

  2. Thanks for your comment, and best of luck in Mississauga! We seem to have found an apartment for December 1, so things are looking up.

  3. Yay :) This is probably the most important component in the plan (and the biggest expense). I wish there was a forum of some sort for groups like ours to connect and exchange ideas and tips (like where to look for reasonable accommodations and how to manage in-kind donations when you don't have a family yet!). Good luck with everything

    1. Hi Rima: Are you on Facebook? There is a FB group that connects various sponsorship groups. If you look under "Resources" here, you'll see the link, and you can ask to join. Hope this helps!

    2. There is also this group for assistance with donations:

  4. Thank you! We'll definitely join up