by Rebecca Walker, World Renew Refugee Coordinator; Cameron Klapwyk, World Renew Refugee Program Associate; Kathryn Teeluck, World Renew Refugee Associate; and, Jeanette Romkema, Global Learning Partner consultant
Churches can be a blessing to newcomers and their communities when they reach out and support refugee and immigrant families. This is what missional engagement can look like. Below are a few excerpts from a NEW Refugee Sponsorship Handbook that will be shared with you soon on The Lighthouse website, from World Renew. It is our hope that this resource and this newsletter will assist you in your journey to sponsor refugees, support newcomers or discern your role as a church in this area.
Who is a Refugee?
Who is a refugee? Well, the short answer is: Refugees are our neighbours. When we think of refugees we often hear the Biblical call to “welcome the stranger.” And welcoming the stranger is a good first step. But in this increasingly interconnected world, these “strangers” are our neighbours and we need each other. When one part of a community struggles, the entire community is incomplete – the entire community hurts.
According to the United Nations Convention of 1951 to which Canada is a signatory, a refugee is “a person who, because of well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable or afraid to ask for protection in that country, or not having a country of nationality, is outside the country where he/she usually lived, and is unable or afraid to return to that country.”
A person isn’t a refugee by choice. A person is a refugee by the discriminating choices of others.
The ideal solution for most refugees is repatriation—the resettling of refugees back to their country of origin.
For those who cannot return home, a second solution is for the refugee to create a new life in their country of asylum. However, if neither of these solutions is possible, refugees may be resettled to a third country, such as Canada.
It is important to note that refugee resettlement is a last resort solution. Only 1% of refugees worldwide will be resettled outside their country of origin or asylum.
Canada is unique because it is the only country that allows sponsorship of refugees by private organizations and citizens. World Renew is one of over 100 Canadian organizations that have been granted a sponsorship agreement by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
World Renew’s sponsorship agreement allows churches and groups in Canada, to work together to sponsor refugees.
What is Private Refugee Sponsorship?
The Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program (PSRP) gives Canadians the unique opportunity to play a meaningful role in the welcome and integration of refugees to Canada. In the program, administered by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), sponsors apply to resettle refugees who are approved overseas for protection. After the refugees arrive in Canada the sponsor walks alongside these refugees and provides ‘hands on’ support to assist them with settling well in their new community and country. Sponsors provide support with such things as accessing medical services, applying for necessary documents, opening a bank account and learning how to use public transportation. Since the beginning of the PSRP in 1979 the program has allowed Canadians to offer protection and a new home to more than 275,000 refugees.
Having signed an agreement with the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, World Renew is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH). This allows World Renew to approve churches and groups who wish to sponsor refugees under its agreement. Privately sponsored refugees arrive in Canada as Permanent Residents. They must settle in the same community as their sponsor.
10 Helpful Tips
Below is a collection of refugee sponsorship good practices gathered from the collective wisdom of the many churches and groups that have sponsored refugees with World Renew over the years.
- Pray fervently. Bring all you do to God, for it is through and with Him that great things will be achieved.
- Stay humble. We are all on a learning journey and our worst enemy is thinking we have it all figured out. Ask many questions, share information with each other, and invite in wisdom from others.
- Listen deeply. As you journey with refugees, listen carefully to them. Ask questions, realize you don’t know as much as you think you do, and seek out learning opportunities.
- When in doubt, ask. There is no shame in asking. Please connect with World Renew’s Refugee Office staff if you have any questions. They are happy to answer any question you may have and are also happy to connect you with churches and groups who have sponsored in the past so you can connect and learn from their experience.
- Ensure autonomy. Refugees are in need but they want to make decisions for themselves, just as you and I do. Whenever possible check with the refugees themselves when a decision needs to be made that may impact their lives or choices.
- Walk along side. You are starting a journey that will be a blessing for all involved. It will be in the walking along side, rather than the leading in front, that the greatest gifts will be received.
- Be Realistic. Be aware that you will face problems. Don’t expect that the sponsorship will be easy. It probably won’t be. If it is, you will be pleasantly surprised. Take the long view. If things are difficult, try to picture where the refugees will be in five or ten years in terms of employment, education, assimilation, spiritual life, emotional healing and wellness. Know that every refugee resettlement is unique.
- Communicate. Clear communication is key to the development of a flourishing sponsorship and to the functioning of a thriving refugee committee. When communication with the refugees breaks down, either because of misunderstandings due to language or cultural differences, or because of personality clashes, extra effort needs to be made to restore it. The same is true for communication among refugee committee members. The clear articulation of goals, roles, responsibilities, and frustrations are necessary to keeping a common vision alive – the mission of caring for the refugee family no matter what difficulties emerge.
- Examine Expectations. Each refugee committee member enters the sponsorship with some expectations of what will happen. Be aware of expectations that you have of the refugees. Are they fair and realistic? Are you expecting them to assimilate into Canadian life and to become independent faster than they are able to? Or, are your expectations of them not high enough? Are you doing too much for them so that they don’t learn to become independent and, instead, form an unhealthy dependence on your refugee committee? Are you trying to fix all their problems, instead of giving them the knowledge and inspiring the confidence they need to become contributors to society? Do you expect the refugees to attend your church and worship with you? Or, are you expecting that they will make their own choices as to where they will worship, if at all?
- Celebrate. Celebration hardly seems like a solution to problems, but it can be. Even when you face difficult circumstances, take time to celebrate refugees’ birthdays and other occasions. Generous love and small gifts contributed in a party atmosphere can go a long way to forging love, healing wounds, and building trust.
For more information about refugee sponsorship or the Refugee Sponsorship Handbook, please contact Rebecca Walker at World Renew: [email protected], 1-800-730-3490 x4389, or 905-336-2920 x4389.