Based on what you’re hearing in the news lately, you may be asking what the difference is between privately sponsored and government sponsored Syrian refugees. Since the DJC is privately sponsoring a Syrian refugee family of seven it not only matters; it also may be causing some confusion as stories of the plight of newly arrived government assisted refugees (sometimes shortened to GARs); continue to get much media focus. Should we also be helping these most recently arrived newcomers as we wait for our privately sponsored family?

Syrian refugee siblings Rama, right, Riem, and Raniem take a rest at the Toronto Pearson International Airport after arriving from Frankfurt, Germany on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. Photo by Hannah Yoon
Syrian refugee siblings Rama, right, Riem, and Raniem take a rest at the Toronto Pearson International Airport after arriving from Frankfurt, Germany on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. Photo by Hannah Yoon

As a DJC member of the Social Justice Committee, Lynne Raskin offers a perspective from her  work at South Riverdale Community Health Centre:

“On February 4th 2016, it was reported that almost 16,000 ‘Syrian’ refugees have landed in Canada; another 6,000 have had their applications approved but have yet to come; and, 25,000 are set to arrive by the end of this month.

What does that mean for us, as DJC members, as residents of Toronto and as Canadians? The recent Federal election re- established Canada as a refuge for international peoples experiencing unimaginable, life-threatening physical or mind-numbing psychological terror at the hands of governments, groups or individuals. The resulting influx of ‘Syrian’ refugees is proof of why this matters, and action taken both politically and as a citizenry against inhumane treatment of people anywhere is vital. In addition, the responsibility that we have assumed, carries with it consideration of not only why we are acting but how we are engaging in collective advocacy and personal support. And most importantly, what will we have learned personally and as communities with privilege, capacity and compassion in order to recognize and welcome people in need who are already amongst us.

In Toronto there are well- established systems for settlement, social services, healthcare and housing….not perfect, but existing. And it is precisely these systems that need ramping up to be able to respond to specific situations. And, that is happening.  So how do we allow these services to evolve while assisting where there are gaps?

At this time, there are 3 categories of people arriving as a result of wars in Syria:  Government Assisted Refugees (GAR), Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSR) and Blended Visa Office-Referred Refugees (BVOR). There are privileges and challenges accorded all groups. And, most recently there is an attempt to link supports for PSRs to GARs. This is reasonable in principle and important to consider as a way to complement and not undermine systems’ efforts as we learn about and respond to need. In general PSRs receive more financial support (up to a year) and help to settle, connect and support during this time. GARs are temporarily settled and assisted by government systems to find permanent housing, employment etc. Both receive interim federal healthcare insurance for one year. The main difference is personal engagement and support by privately organized groups who are better able to navigate systems more quickly and with more individual personal support particularly when newcomers first arrive.

Our DJC Social Justice committee has become a well-oiled machine with many hands ensuring the family we are sponsoring will be housed, clothed and connected when they arrive. The work involved in preparing for this one family has been extraordinary. So just imagine the challenge of settling 16,000 people now and 25,000 by the end of the month. We are not only learning about each other , but are also connecting with other groups, creating a web of galvanized citizenry, woven together by values of social justice, tenacity and hard work.

In Toronto, COSTI Immigrant Services, Crossroads clinics, Community Health Centres, Toronto Public Health, the Canadian Arab Institute, Local Immigration Partnerships, Red Cross and initiatives like Project Welcome Home are gearing up. Five hotels in the city are currently housing about 1100 individuals who are slowly being connected to primary care, dental services, housing workers, children’s programming etc. And, newcomers who are here are being encouraged to support each other to learn English, explore local neighbourhoods, accompany each other to their new primary care practitioners, specialists etc. Transportation, interpretation, support and triage is available.

Volunteers are organizing and it is becoming increasingly apparent that good intentions need to be informed by better understanding, some caution, patience and checking assumptions. Newcomers are searching to find their own capacity to gain what they have lost- a sense of safety, trust, hope and control; much of which has been replaced by shame, guilt and the ever-present memories of trauma, loss and pain.  As we move to a place of compassion, we must remember to be mindful that the people with whom we are trying to build bridges are also resilient. They are survivors who will welcome our support, not our pity; will need to be grounded in the present and not questioned about their past; and who will welcome our respect. That is the Canadian way, and that is what the DJC volunteers and community can offer.

This Tuesday, February 9, Julie Dabrusin local MP is inviting Private Sponsor groups to a meeting at the South Riverdale Community Health Center at 955 Queen St. East from 7pm to 9 pm.  Come to share what you have learned and learn what can be shared.” 

— posted by Lynne Raskin on behalf of the DJC Social Justice Committee

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