(Photo by Shannon Lough.)
The momentum sweeping across the country to help Syrian refugees has drawn the Kanata Stittsville Refugee Sponsorship Group to consider how it can sponsor the resettlement of one or more refugees from Syria.
On Wednesday night, the non-profit organization held a meeting to address the Syrian refugee issue along with updates on the sponsorship process to resettle three families from Afghanistan.
The meeting room in Stittsville United Church barely had enough chairs for the 25 people who came to learn more about helping Syrians, a noticeable change from the group’s usual attendance of seven or eight members.
“We wanted to find out more about the Syrian situation,” said Pat McNally, who was there to report back to his own congregation at the St. Thomas Anglican Church on how to sponsor a refugee.
Many of the people there said they were blown away after seeing reports of the refugee crisis on the news and wanted to do something about it.
The chair of the group, Rev. Grant Dillenbeck from Stittsville United Church, was there to answer questions but he also presented the challenges. He said most sponsorships take at least two to three years to get all the paper work in order before a family or individual can come to Canada.
The issue with Syria is even more complicated. There are over four million Syrian refugees registered through the United Nations refugee agency. Resources to support the processing of documents are stretched thin, according to Dillenbeck. The Canadian government has also stated it needs to ensure proper security screening before it can accept more refugees to put on the sponsorship list.
The problem is, Dillenbeck said, there are no Syrians on the list to sponsor except for one large family of 14 — which has already been taken.
Many people who came to the meeting were hoping to commit to a sponsorship right away.
“Tonight is a moment of opportunity,” Michael McKinley said to the group. “What prompts me tonight is the people who might actually die if we don’t take action.”
Dillenbeck encouraged people to take action immediately by sending money to agencies like UNICEF or the UNHCR that are helping Syrians in refugee camps. “Even if we decided to sponsor 100 families tonight it would take one to two years to get them here and they may starve before that,” he said.
The federal government has been criticized for its delayed response in accepting more Syrian refugees. During the election campaign the Conservative party promised to accelerate receiving 20,000 Syrians and Iraqis to Canada, but haven’t outlined how they intend to do that.
“We’ve heard tonight that there’s a public will,” Dillenbeck said. “We need the political will.”
The group is going to ask for donations from member congregations. How many Syrians the group will be able to sponsor will depend on how much money is raised.
“We will now explore possible candidates for sponsorship, and once we have found a suitable candidate or candidates, we will begin the process of sponsorship,” Dillenbeck wrote to everyone in an email after the meeting.
The next meeting is on Wednesday, Oct. 21 at Stittsville United Church at 7:00 pm.