‘It makes all the difference in the world,’ Victoria group seeking refugee sponsors

Sponsoring a family new to Victoria makes a world of difference, says Sabine Lehr, the private sponsorship of refugees manager for the Inter-Cultural Association (ICA) of Victoria.

On World Refugee Day – June 20 – Lehr is urging Victorians to consider becoming sponsors for newcomers seeking a better life.

“It really helps ordinary citizens – Canadians that might not otherwise have much interaction with people with refugee backgrounds – to have some first-hand experience,” Lehr said. “It helps build this kind of social consensus around immigration in our country that is so important.”

We need people coming in with a different outlook on life. With new ideas, with new thoughts and to rejuvenate our population,” she added. “It’s a real boost for our society here in Victoria.”

And the number of refugees resettling in Victoria appears to be on the rise.

The ICA database shows that between 2015 and 2018, the percentage of newcomer clients at the ICA with a refugee background jumped significantly – from 5.9 per cent to 26.8 per cent.

READ ALSO: UVic group seeks to sponsor, mentor refugee family

Created in 2012, the Specialized Sponsorship Program sees refugees selected for resettlement by the United Nations. Lists of families and individuals on this list are provided to the ICA, which then refers cases to sponsors.

“We are looking for a match between the sponsor’s interests and capacities on one hand and then the kinds of supports a person might need,” Lehr said. “[Sponsors] might not be able to support a family of 10 but they may be prepared to support a family of four or a single individual.”

And thanks to federal funding via the specialized sponsorship program as well as the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) fund – supplied by a group of Canadian philanthropists – the financial aspect of sponsorship doesn’t come at a huge cost to Canadian families.

“There is a limited time period [for sponsorship] so people don’t need to worry that they will have to support someone forever. It’s a one-year commitment, and on the financial side, the government is paying some of the costs of sponsorship – six months at social income assistance rate.”

Lehr said the BVOR Fund was created last year and has already helped to sponsor an additional 600 new Canadians. That funding remains available until the end of August.

READ ALSO: Refugee society celebrates near-completion of two ‘Welcome Houses’ in Oak Bay

But one of the most important roles of a sponsor is providing social supports – right from the moment of arrival. Sponsors pick up the newcomers from the airport, help them find housing and help them through the paperwork that comes with making a home in a new country.

ICA helps with language programs, education, job-finding and more.

“Basically we call it ‘walking with the newcomers,’” Lehr said. “It’s about walking along with them and helping them find their way in this new society during that first year.”

Lehr says helping refugees and landed immigrants is a tangible, hands-on way to make a real difference – sometimes for people fleeing violence, conflict or persecution.

“We can’t solve the problems of the world, but we can make a difference in the life of that one person or that one family,” she said. “And people often say, ‘what difference does that make if one individual gets sponsored here? There’s 25 million refugees.’

“And we say, ‘It makes all the difference for this one person. It makes all the difference in the world. And it might be a life or death difference.’”

For more information on becoming a sponsor, visit icavictoria.org or call 250-388-4728.

According to the ICA, World Refugee Day was created to “commemorate the strength, courage, perseverance, resilience and ongoing struggles of the millions of people who have been and are now considered refugees globally.”

Celebrate the occasion in Victoria with a flag raising at Victoria City Hall at noon on Thursday and film screenings at the Greater Victoria Public Library (3950 Cedar Hill Cross Road) from 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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