Evangelical churches sponsored more than 3,500 refugees from Syria and the Middle East in Canada over a year ago. The EFC's Anita Levesque of Ottawa, who co-ordinates the EFC’s refugee initiatives, explains what happens at “month 13” when the yearlong commitment to financial support by the government or private sponsors ends.
Q1. What is the situation of refugees as they approach Month 13?
This journey to Month 13 begins on day one of a refugee’s arrival. Refugee sponsors are encouraged to think of Month 13 as a transition point, rather than a cut off date. Brian Dyck, national migration and resettlement program coordinator with Mennonite Central Committee, puts it this way:
It’s similar to turning 18. We are not different people on our 18th birthday. Our society has drawn a line to demark adulthood. Month 13 recognizes that a person or family has come a significant way on their journey towards integration.
Month 13 is a recognition of changing relations, not the end of a relationship.
Some refugee families, depending on their situation when arriving in Canada, may need support beyond Month 13. Every situation and relationship is unique. However, in all situations, our role is not to control, but to encourage.
Carol Gouveia works with refugees at the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec, and she also chairs the EFC’s working group for denominational Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs). She says:
Our role as sponsors is not to “parent” refugee families. Rather, our role is to come alongside and encourage refugee families to take charge of their own lives, helping them to obtain the tools they need to do that.
This relationship does not need to end at Month 13 unless that is the family’s choice. In fact, it would be surprising if families who arrived without any English/French language skills had sufficient time within 12 short months to become fluent enough to secure employment needed to support their family. In some cases, it can take up to 36 months for a family to fully integrate into Canadian society, learn the language and find skilled work to support their family. As sponsors, we need to be patient and go with the flow.
Q2. What kind of support might refugees still need past Month 13?
Again, each individual or family is unique, and can receive support from immigrant service providing organizations beyond Month 13. Some of their needs may include:
- Mental health support and trauma counselling
- Language training in English/French, translation assistance.
- Skills assessment and pre-employment readiness support and training.
- Connecting with job opportunities and job training
- Unique support for youth – social, emotional & developmental
Note: Sponsorship groups and individuals are not alone in finding support for these needs. Support can be accessed through settlement agencies until the resettled refugee becomes a citizen.
Q3. As an individual, what can I do?
First, welcome your new neighbours. Introduce yourself, learn about their home country; learn more about the Syrian Crisis. Share a meal. You can take turns hosting, a Canadian meal in your home, and a Syrian meal in theirs, or perhaps a larger community meal at your community centre.
You could also volunteer. Contact your local resettlement assistance program to find out what they need most. Share your time, expertise and friendship with organizations that help refugees build new lives and careers, navigate the health system or understand Canadian culture.
As a citizen, you can engage with your Member of Parliament and the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and encourage them to:
- Increase landing numbers (arrivals) of refugees to Canada, and continue to give attention to clearing out the processing backlog of refugee applications, many who desperately need to exit dangerous situations.
- Ask our government to ensure that Humanitarian Immigration continues to be an essential part of Canada’s immigration response.
- Support family reunification, and give priority to children and families
- Give priority to the most vulnerable refugees, and more easily accept refugees with skills and education under the economic immigration categories.
Finally, you can donate to one of the evangelical denominational Sponsorship Agreement Holders that help support and settle refugees. Also, you can give to Mennonite Central Committee, The Salvation Army or World Renew Canada, qualified organizations that help provide services to newly arrived refugees.