The Archdiocese of Vancouver says over the last 48 hours, it has seen an increase in calls from people asking how the church can help individuals bring their family members from war-torn countries to Canada.
Evelyn Vollet, the Archdiocese’s director of the Service and Justice Office, says the church has been helping refugees for decades.
“This year we had 80 to date, last year we had 52 people come in and in 2013 we had over 500,” said Vollet.
The Archdiocese is one of about 90 Sponsorship Agreement Holders in the country: organizations certified to act as a facilitator for individuals looking to sponsor their families. While the church doesn’t pick up the cost of the sponsorship, they do take care of the mountains of paperwork.
(Click here for a list of Sponsorship Agreement Holders)
“The family member will go to the pastor of the parish and request sponsorship,” explains Vollet. “It is indeed a very complex process. We have the expertise of our office that helps navigate through that process.”
Individuals are asked to pay an application fee. Vollet says they are currently dealing with more than 500 applications–all of them at various stages in the process.
Lifeline Syria flooded with calls
Organizations such as Lifeline Syria have been flooded with calls and emails from every-day Canadians, interested in sponsoring Syrian families.
“So a family of four costs $27,000. It’s a lot of money up front. but it’s used to support them for a full year,” explains Alexandra Kotyk, the organization’s project manager. “So if you divide that by 12, that’s actually not that much for a family to live on for a whole year. But that’s a minimum requirement that the gov’t says you have to fundraise in order to sponsor a family,”
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Kotyk says the sponsoring individuals are also responsible for offering all the support the family would need during their first year in Canada.
“So once they’re here, you’re responsible for things like picking them up from the airport, helping them find housing, helping enroll children in school, helping the parents find employment or go to language classes–all the things that you would do if you have a family member arriving,” said Kotyk.
On Friday, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson joined other big city mayors wanting to help, saying in an email to Global News he’s asked “the City Manager for a review of how Vancouver can be of more immediate assistance to refugees originating from the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq.”
Government needs to ‘clear the backlog’
Still, advocates say Canadians stepping up to help is one thing, but the government needs to do the same by clearing the backlog of refugee applications already in the system.
“There has be the political will to expedite the resettlement process,” said Chris Friesen, director of settlement services with the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia.
“It serves no purpose to have hundreds of applications going to the federal government when the current wait time is upwards of 18 months to four years.”
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