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Canadian churches await refugees

22 December 2016


Concern: Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama listen during the Leaders' Summit on Refugees, during the UN General Assembly, in New York, in September

Concern: Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama listen during the Leaders' Summit on Refugees, during the UN General Assembly, in New York, in Septembe...

TWO churches in Canada that spent thousands of pounds renting accommodation to resettle a Syrian refugee family, whom they had expected in January but who never arrived, have been told by the government to expect a new family.

The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, promised to spon­sor the resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015 — a target that was achieved in February this year. Of these, 40 per cent are reported to have entered the country through private spon­sorships run by churches, charities, and individuals, or a programme combining both private and government support.

But, in June, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Syrian Refugee Project, a programme led jointly by St Mark’s, and Grace United Church, in Ontario, complained that, despite being approved by the government in January, the refugees had still not arrived, and were being held in Turkey (News, 24 June).

And last month, the chair of the project, Virginia Mainprize, wrote to the community explaining that they had “sadly and reluctantly” cancelled the lease, in August, after seven months, and moved its con­tents into storage. “In the meantime, we are in regular contact with our family, by both email and Skype,” she wrote.

She said last week that the delay had cost the churches about £6000 in rent, and subsequently £200 a month in storage fees for the clothes, furniture, and household goods, all of which had been donated privately. “I think there is no chance that we will be com­pensated,” she said.

The decision came after the group received a letter from the government stating that the delays were due to families’ being offered to sponsors before “eligibility, med­ical, and security decisions” had been finalised. “We understand that the delays have been disappointing for some private sponsors and regret the challenges that we know this caused for many,” the letter stated. “As a special exception, given the pace and volume of the Syrian initiative, we will begin offering replacement cases in the coming weeks to those sponsors that have been impacted by these delays.”

The Niagara-on-the-Lake project was offered another family for re­­settlement earlier this month, and have accepted.

“We feel so dreadful about the family we originally sponsored, but are glad that we will give another family — a young father and mother, and four children under nine years old — the opportunity to come and live in Canada. The new family is quite a difference from our original family of six adults and a teenage boy.”

They still have “no idea” when they might arrive, however. As for the original family, Ms Mainprize said that she had planned to break the news to them before Christmas. She believes that they are to be given the opportunity — “if and when their clearance is completed” — to come to Canada as Government Assisted Refugees, with all expenses covered by the government for a year.

“There is no option for us to sponsor both cases,” she said.

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