2019 DECEMBER 13
LET’S RING THE CHRISTMAS BELLS, LOUD AND DEEP, TOGETHER!
Dear Friends of MCRS,
Do you know these words?
“Climb every mountain, Search high and low
Follow every byway, Every path you know
Climb every mountain, Ford every stream…”
They are the first lines to the song that inspires Maria to face her fears. It is also the song that underscores her family’s secret flight from persecution over the mountains to a new country where they will begin to rebuild their lives. Perhaps you recognize the song and story from the movie, The Sound of Music.
Based on true events, the film broke box office records in 29 countries and won numerous awards including five Academy Awards. In 2001, with its influence still strong, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. It remains an annual Christmas movie for many families today. It is a story of love, courage, triumph, standing on principle, and doing whatever is necessary to live in freedom.
It’s also a story that could not be told today!
The times have changed. Now, doing whatever is necessary to try and cross a border for safety gets you labelled with a whole host of terms, some too offensive for repeating. It will also get you arrested, interrogated, and separated from family members for a time at least. The welcome around the world has gone colder than a Canadian winter. The music has died for so many, replaced by the sounds of suspicion and hatred, and the cries of family members torn apart.
Recently, a family came to us having walked an hour and a half in the cold with luggage and children in tow. They had only been in Canada a few hours. With no money, no friends or other family members, and not speaking English, they knew only to look for “the Mennonites” whom they had heard would help them with their refugee claim.
Thankfully, they made it to our office a few minutes before we would close for the day. Our staff were able to arrange shelter and food, provide them with some warm outerwear, and schedule appointments to help them with their refugee claim.
What is the song today that might tell this family’s story? And your story as you consider how your Christmas gift to MCRS could be the difference maker for families like this one, who find their way to us?
I keep thinking of a couple of stanzas from one of my favourites songs, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.
“And in despair I bowed my head, There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song, Of peace on earth, good will to men…
Then rang the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor does he sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.”
We invite you to make a Special Christmas gift in keeping with your financial ability – perhaps $50, $75, or more – as a proclamation of peacemaking.
We are committed to using your gifts to keep responding to people seeking refuge in Canada. They often come to us hungry, cold and always needing help with their refugee claim. Because of you, we can ensure they have shelter and food, and we can give them the claim assistance and warm welcome they need.
For your convenience, we have enclosed a return envelope should you choose to mail your donation. Please make your cheque payable to MCRS.
You can also donate directly and securely through our website at www.mcrs.ca/donate.
All donations received by December 31st will be eligible for a 2019 income tax receipt.
It’s time to ring the bells more loud and deep! More than ever, we need to remind people that peace is possible, but it can only happen through each of us!
On behalf of our Board, staff and volunteers, I thank you for your support of MCRS and the people we help! We wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas!
Peace to you,
2019 AUGUST 13
PRESENTATION TO COMMUNITY SERVICES COMMITTEE
On Tuesday, August 13, 2019 our Executive Director, Shelley Campagnola presented the Community Services Committee with our request to the Premier and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services to revoke the planned cuts to the Ontario Works Transition Child Benefit.
Delegation: Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support, Kitchener
Representative: Shelley Campagnola, Executive Director
Personal Residency: Waterloo
Thank you, Chair Redman and Regional Councillors, for the opportunity to present to you today.
As you well know, The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services has announced plans to eliminate the Transition Child Benefit (herein called TCB) as of November 1, 2019. This benefit came through Ontario Works and was established to respond to the support needs of children whose parents/ caregivers/ guardians had undetermined, temporary, or precarious immigration status and thus were not eligible for Federal or Provincial child subsidies. (1)
The TCB is a mandatory (versus discretionary), non-health related benefit that provides families with up to $230 per child per month. This monthly amount has proven to be a lifeline to ensure that all children have their basic needs met.
The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services has, through an audit, rightly identified a need to improve the delivery and monitoring of social assistance. However, it is of great concern that the most significant step taken to date has been targeting the TCB, and thereby the most vulnerable of those needing assistance.
Of all people receiving Ontario Works (2), 37% were born outside of Canada, and of this group, 20% are refugee claimants (3). In other words, refugee claimants throughout the province make up 7.4% of all people receiving Ontario Works. Roughly half that again would be children.
What makes claimants unique is their undetermined status which delays their access to employment. Claimants must apply for a work permit and will not receive one until they have completed an immigration medical, and their application for such work permit is approved. At present, receiving work permits is about a three month wait. In the meantime, their only other source of income is social assistance.
Our experience at MCRS is that most of the people we work with are eager to be working. They bring with them:
• A strong work ethic and identifiable and marketable skills,
• An, “if you don’t work, you don’t eat” attitude,
• A desire to be industrious and to contribute to the community they hope to call home,
• A need to raise funds for costs associated with their claim process, and to facilitate family reunification if, and when, their claim for protection is approved.
We are confident in our assumption that such is the normative profile of other demographic groups that would also be impacted by this cut.
Most of our clients who start on Ontario Works are employed within their first 5-7 months of being in the country. That is vastly different from the overall findings of the audit— “the average length of time people depend on the program has nearly doubled, increasing from an average of 19 months to almost three years in 2017/18.” (4) In other words, the duration of assistance for claimants we work with is roughly 20% of the duration for other groups.
Contrary to some of the negative rhetoric, claimants do not come to Canada to live off the hard work of others. No one can really live for any length of time on Ontario Works, whether they were born here or were born outside of Canada.
• A single person will receive $733 per month.
• An adult with one child will receive $1,112 + $230 Transition Child Benefit (which represents 17% of total assistance)
Compare this to the base salary of a Waterloo Region Councillor: $3,644.25 per month + pension. Now imagine being told you will receive a 17% pay cut simply because of who you are. You would receive $620 less per month + reduced pension amount as well. It is interesting to note that your cut would almost cover the benefit for three children. However, the greater point is that you would still have almost three times what that one adult with one child will receive without the TCB.
Financially speaking, claimants would have been better off staying in their country of origin. Except they can’t. They have been targeted, tortured, imprisoned, or had their lives threatened. The story is common and can be summarized as follows: they escaped out the back door while the death squad was coming in the front door. This is not the exception, but the norm. What they didn’t do is leave a good life so that they could come here and live in abject poverty, scorned and disbelieved by those around them. The good news, is that 80% of the people we work with, are approved to receive Canada’s protection. So, we are talking about people who are going to be in our community for a long time.
Losing this benefit will have devastating consequences, not only for refugee claimant families, but also for 16,000 children across the province whose parents/guardians/caregivers are on Ontario Works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and currently receiving TCB. Those children make up only 0.7% of all children in Ontario up to 14 years of age (inclusive) (5).
This removal of TCB stands as a threat to the health and wellbeing of vulnerable families, and therefore as a threat to the wellbeing of communities. It will put many low-income families in the difficult position of choosing whether to pay the rent or put food on the table. This is an impossible choice that will result in children being undernourished and families being put at severe risk of homelessness.
There are already hundreds of children in the Waterloo Region who go to school hungry on Monday mornings because they haven’t eaten all weekend. Their ability to concentrate, learn and engage is compromised because of severe food insecurity. Many schools have clothing cupboards for children who come to school in dirty clothes because their families can’t afford to do laundry, or ragged clothes because their families can’t afford new, and weather appropriate clothing. This will get worse with the elimination of the Transition Child Benefit as funds needed simply to pay rent will be completely exhausted. Families will have to rely even more so on food banks and other charitable sources.
As for refugee claimants in emergency shelter systems: they will not be able to secure and maintain housing accommodations, as the combination of rising rental costs and low social assistance rates means that housing will be entirely unaffordable for families on social assistance without the monthly TCB allowance. Those that have housing will be forced out onto the streets or into precarious circumstances, no longer able to pay their rent. This flies directly in the face of our Region’s Housing Stability goals and practices, which MCRS is well known for supporting and seeking to align with as well as we can.
Many families will be at increased risk of exploitation by employers and landlords, as the desperation grows to provide food, shelter and basic needs for their children, driving them to do whatever they have to.
MCRS is working hard to develop programs and partnerships that meet the everyday needs of claimants. The anticipated cuts to the TCB serves only to increase the urgency of our efforts. As a donor funded organization, we already run a lean “machine”. The elimination of the TCB is well beyond our capacity to make up for, or address on our own. We have been working with other claimant organizations across the province to plead for change, and for a revocation of the cut, recognizing the devastating effect this will have on communities across the province.
Waterloo Region was settled by the very kinds of people who are coming to us now – people seeking refuge and a place to be industrious, contributors to their communities, and to raise their children in safety. Some of the families we work with were in environments where the standard life lesson for children was not learning to swim or look both ways to cross the street, but how to duck in the car when the gunfire started.
It is our understanding that there are at least 600 children and their families in Waterloo Region who will be directly and deeply impacted by the loss of the TCB. At MCRS, we have identified around 225 children within the scope of our organizational influence who will be at risk each year. We can readily identify families that will be in high risk scenarios in November and going into the Christmas season because they have no other options.
• 225 children x $230/m = 60,000 a month or $420,000 for the average seven months will no longer be available to go toward covering food, clothing and other basic needs of children who are not eligible for CCB or OCB.
• 16,000 children across the province x $230/m = 44,160,000 per year. Yes, a lot of money. But again, those 16,000 children make up 0.7% of all the children in Ontario who are 0-14 years of age, and these children are not eligible for the other subsidies available to the other 99.3% of children. Thus, these cuts are even more detrimental to their well-being because they are left with no other options. In addition, this amount represents 0.03% of projected provincial revenue for 2019-2020. Saving this percentage at such a high social cost that will reverberate financially and exponentially in other ways is not fiscally sound.
No one fleeing persecution and seeking protection in our country should be at risk of such extreme poverty or such mistreatment—and certainly not the youngest and most vulnerable among us.
Please request the Premier and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services to revoke the planned cuts to the Ontario Works Transition Child Benefit to ensure the continuance and stability of concerted efforts to improve the well-being of Waterloo Region and other communities across the province in fiscally and socially responsible ways.
(1) Canadian Child Benefit (CCB) or Provincial Benefits (OCB).
(2) Source of data: Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, Chapter 3.11 Section 2.2.2. Figure 8, page 505.
(3) As stated in the same report, Refugee Claimants are individuals who have made a claim for refugee status but have not yet had their status determined. Refugee claimants are eligible for Ontario Works effective the date they formally make a claim for refugee protection.
(4) Source of data: Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, Chapter 3.11 Section 1.0, page 494.
(5) Based on 2016 Census data: https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/Page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=PR&Code1=35&Geo2=&Code2=&Data=Count&SearchText=Ontario&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&B1=All&GeoLevel=PR&GeoCode=35
2019 JULY 29
IT’S TIME TO LOOK AGAIN
I used to lead workshops for people who wanted to improve their teaching practice. One thing I would do is place an everyday object on the table—a ruler as one example—and ask them to tell me what they saw. Most would respond, “I see a ruler.” Then I would ask them to look again. A ruler would become a straight edge for drawing, something to cut paper with, a stick to hold up a limping plant, a stir stick for paint, a toy for playfighting and even a weapon for punishment (too many had felt the sting of a ruler across their hands). In fact, they discovered dozens of ways of seeing the object. Then I would ask them to think about the person they found most difficult to teach and apply the same practice of looking again and again at that person. It often didn’t take much more discussion to bring about significant shifts in teaching practice as they began to see that person in new ways.
In the global narrative, we see the headlines of millions of people on the move dotted by children washed up on the shorelines, bombed out buildings and crammed detention centres, breached borders, families separated, raids and deportations, and endless conflicts between the many “us versus them”. What we don’t see is an end to the flood of human suffering showing up on various doorsteps. And like the sandbags that get filled and piled up as barriers against rising floodwaters, there are now physical, political, and policy barriers being erected against the rising tide of human movement because we don’t seem to know what else to do. The UNHCR recently announced that there were now 70 million people on the move. The tide is growing. But of greater concern was their statement in the same release that we no longer seem to be able to make peace.
Maybe it’s time to look again at that human tide and see it as something different than everything we have called it to this point. All the language we have used—irregular, illegal, migrant, immigrant, refugee, queue jumper, terrorist, criminal, threat, bogus, and a whole slew of other more colourful and disparaging terms—hasn’t given us the solutions needed to do more than sandbag and just hope it will all someday recede. At MCRS, we believe it’s time for a new paradigm that begins with seeing and naming claimants as the people they are—moms and dads, children and teens, professionals and community leaders, resilient and courageous. They are also desperate and vulnerable, having been targeted and experienced losses few of us can even begin to imagine. How might things change if our leaders—our elected and prospective political representatives, and our media representatives—refused to use the language that’s been used and countered hostility with calls to look again and see in new ways the very human story that is unfolding before us? Just maybe, that might be the first step toward being able to once again make peace.
Did you know?
• the number of men, women and children currently being assisted by MCRS.
• the number of men, women and children assisted by MCRS who have received Canada’s protection this year.
• the number of men, women and children (so far) who will not have the support of a lawyer for evidence gathering and submission, hearing preparation, or representation at their first hearing due to cuts to legal aid.
• the number of people who will not be able to appeal a negative decision due to cuts to legal aid.
• the programs we hope to activate by this Fall including employment readiness, transitional housing, translation support, and refugee hearing preparation. With no access to government
funding we will be relying on our community. Potential donors hearing a different tone from key influencers (you) will help us raise essential funds needed to provide programs that claimants can’t access otherwise.
Shelley Campagnola, Executive Director
2019 May 29
ONTARIO CUTTING CHILD BENEFITS!
It’s a game changer. People who come to Ontario while waiting to hear if they will receive Canada’s protection are not eligible for the Canadian Child Benefit or the Ontario Child Benefit. They have been eligible for a Transition Child Benefit as part of the Ontario Works program. It provided up to $230/month per child to help parents feed and clothe their children until they find jobs. It made it more possible to pay rent. That is now being taken away, along with cuts to Legal Aid, under the premise that refugee claimants are a federal problem.
Up until now, the provincial and federal governments were partners; together living out the awesomeness of being Canadian! No more! Yes, the federal government sets policy but that policy generally reflects the collective hearts of the people of Canada who live in various provinces. The federal government is not an island but a hub of Canadian heart, goodwill, and good practice setting direction that is shared by most.
It appears that Ontario has rejected that we are part of something bigger and better than ourselves. In so doing, essential funding needed to ensure due process for people seeking protection, and the provision of basic needs of food, clothing and shelter are being stripped away. All this under the guise of balancing the budget. Except that this won’t help. This will actually make things worse.
Taking away the Transition Child Benefit will hit the well-being of children, their families and the communities they live in. It has no good outcomes; only heartache, division and higher costs. This move, along with cuts to legal aid, are a clear statement of not-in-my-backyard because you aren’t one of us. These cuts will save less than a third of a penny on the dollar at the expense of their dignity and our decency.
This is politics in its most tragic expression. It assumes the worst of those in the most need. It takes the broken relationships and practices in politics and blames the only ones who can’t fight back. I personally believe we are better than this (at least most of us are). It is time to stop believing the lies that have been with us for longer than we have been a country:
√ THEY don’t steal our jobs, they create them.
√ THEY don’t change our culture, threaten our language or take away our way of life. (On the other hand, WE, not THEY, did that to indigenous people all by ourselves).
√ THEY are not like us (good thing). Because of that, THEY make us better than what we have proven we can be without THEM.
TOGETHER we are Canada. It’s time to stop and see the faces, hear the stories, and stand up for who we really are. People who listen. People who believe in due process. People who aren’t interested in making change on the backs of the vulnerable but for the sake of the vulnerable.
Shelley Campagnola, Executive Director
2019 APRIL 11
Life has become even harder for refugee claimants also known as asylum seekers. The Federal government of Canada is making moves that will severely hinder, and in some situations deny, due process and access to a fair hearing for many; to a chance to prove they need Canada’s protection.
How ironic that we can successfully demand our day in court to fight a parking ticket while denying a hearing for those knocking on our “doors” seeking safety.
How ironic (and arrogant?) that we get upset when our citizens don’t get what we think is due process in other countries (thinking about our citizens locked up in China right now) but we think it is okay to deny due process and decide before even hearing the facts that an asylum seeker is lying and out to use our systems.
From my vantage point, I do not see people who are country shopping! I see people who have faced closed border after closed border, trying to find anyone who will listen long enough to hear the facts and weigh the evidence before passing judgment. They have heard Canada is fair and follows the rule of law. It makes sense to me that they would put their hope in what they have heard and come here. It’s what I would do; go for the best chance I have. Imagine how they will feel when they find out we won’t listen either. Oh but wait!
They can ask for a pre-removal risk assessment (how would they know to ask for this?). But, isn’t it contradictory to deny a full hearing of their claim because we think they are just shopping or outright lying but then we allow an assessment to determine if they might truly be at risk if deported?
Shelley Campagnola, Executive Director
2018 July 10
Taylor: Stop blaming refugee claimants for problems we’ve chosen not to solve
Updated: July 10, 2018
Working on refugee issues means having the opportunity to meet inspiring people, both refugees and Canadians, every single day — and almost as often, having to defend those incredible people against labels or policies that just don’t make sense.
This is one of those times.
Last week, the government of Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced it would no longer help the federal government or municipalities deal with the rising number of people requesting refugee status in Canada, thousands of whom have chosen Ontario. The practical implications of the province’s decision were unclear, but it appears to mean it won’t participate in the efforts to move refugee claimants out of the overcrowded Toronto shelter system to other Ontario cities and develop systems to divert new arrivals to other locations, and it wants nothing to do with distributing the extra $11 million for housing that the Justin Trudeau government has allocated to the province.
The premier’s office said the Trudeau government’s policies “resulted in a housing crisis and threats to the services that Ontario families depend on.” Later, provincial Minister Lisa MacLeod (MPP for Nepean) referred to “illegal border crossers” who, she said, had created a “capacity issue” in housing at the municipal level. The provincial government’s solution was to say the federal and municipal governments should sort it out between them.
Let me break this down a bit.
1. Housing is not a refugee claimant problem, it is a Canadian problem. More than 6,700 people were in Ottawa shelters in 2013, long before the current influx of claimants began. Yes, refugee claimants account for around half of the recent spike in demand for family shelter spaces here, but that means there were already thousands of residents in need of housing support. Canadian voters created the acute shortage of affordable housing by failing, election after election, to elect governments that would act. Now the arrival of so many newcomers in need is shining a light on how big this hole in our safety net really is.
2. Blaming refugees for the housing crisis is also Xenophobia 101: When you can’t get your own house in order, blame “outsiders.” Refugees are easy targets, after all — they can’t vote and they don’t want to make waves; they just want a crack at a new life.
3. Disengaging from one of the most urgent pressures facing the province’s biggest city (and smaller centres, including Ottawa) is the wrong move at the worst time. We should be scaling up teamwork, not dissension. The province’s absence will be felt most acutely by the Ontarians working hard to build thriving communities.
4. Stop falling into the trap of referring to people crossing the border as “illegal.” It is not a crime to cross the Canadian border and ask for asylum — it is a right Canada agreed to respect when we signed the UN Convention on Refugees almost 50 years ago, and that holds true whether someone crosses at an official border point or down a wooded path. Every time you hear someone refer to “illegal border crossers,” bells should ring and alarms should sound. It’s the surest sign that someone is trying to separate you from your humanity and get you to ignore the most fundamental fact: Refugees are people in search of safety, with a legal right to ask for it when they come to Canada.
Finally, and most importantly:
5. What are we really afraid of? Refugees have proven, throughout our history, that they strengthen communities and economies. They start businesses, create employment, contribute to our vibrant arts and cultural scene, become cherished neighbours and friends, students and leaders — and eventually pay back more in taxes than they use in services.
Minister MacLeod is correct to call this a “capacity issue,” but solving capacity issues requires collaboration. The answer the province seeks is only possible by staying at the table to improve housing options for all. Refugees are builders, dreamers, doers — and Canada needs them all.
Louisa Taylor is director of Refugee 613, an Ottawa communications and mobilization hub for refugee welcome.
2018 June 20
There has been a lot of media coverage recently about people trying to cross the border from Mexico to Texas, and from the U.S. to Canada through Roxham Road in Quebec. Some of the most difficult images have been of children at the U.S.- Mexico border separated from their families, deemed to need protective custody while parents are criminally charged for trying to cross the border away from the recognized border points.
While not having these kinds of scenes at the Canada-U.S. border, the language has been strong for those crossing into Canada: queue jumpers, illegals, border jumpers. They are accused of trying to bypass the system and of just wanting a better life and a free ride. They are pitted against people already here for the distribution of so-called “scarce” resources.
At MCRS, we seek humane and just treatment that includes giving people a chance to be heard. We recognize that policies designed to manage the movement of people, at times can get in the way of hearing the whole story and we affirm Canada as a place of due process, good order and listening ears. We affirm the systems that are in place to facilitate these things.
Each week we meet individuals who have already been harmed by oppression, persecution, or injustice. We do everything we can to help them tell their story so that a fair decision can be made about whether or not they need Canada’s protection. They are not queue jumpers. They are in a completely different “line” that does not impact those who come via sponsorship or immigration. They are not illegals or border jumpers though we agree they illegally cross the border when they cross between border points. And they are treated accordingly.
They are not trying to bypass the system. They are trying to get access to the system. They don’t want just a chance for a better life. They want to have a chance to live at all. They do not use up scarce resources. They make up 0.028% of the population of Ontario where resources are not scarce – there is plenty of money to go around. When it comes to resources, what we are dealing with more so is a priority and allocation problem.
We understand that not everyone has all the information they need to respond differently than they do. We welcome dialogue and questions, even if people land at very different conclusions than what we have come to.
We ask that no matter what, we continue as we generally have as Canadians, to treat others, no matter how they get here and how long they are allowed to stay, with dignity, respect, and kindness.
2018 April 25
Everyday I scan the headlines and read news and opinion articles referencing refugee claimants. Today, my heart sank as I read these words from Margaret Dente in a Globe and Mail opinion piece:
“In other parts of the world, desperate asylum seekers risk their lives on leaky boats, or entrust their fate to human smugglers. But Canada is easy. To get to Canada, all you have to do is take a cab to the border. Your greeting will be warm. The new arrivals at Roxham Road look more like tourists than endangered refugees. Their suitcases are neatly lined up as they wait for buses to take them to their temporary accommodations, where they will receive food, shelter, medical care, financial support, work permits, schooling for their kids – and, eventually, a refugee hearing. No wonder Canada is such a popular destination.”
The people our office serves everyday have faced horrendous situations that most of us can’t begin to imagine. Do some of them come through the U.S.? Yes they do. And they have a right to. People have an international right to seek refuge and they are not obligated to go to the first so-called safe country. Which is a good thing because there are now 70 countries that have rolled up the welcome mat and closed their doors, making it that much harder to find safety.
I’m glad we still give a warm welcome. It might be the first sign of hope people have seen in a long, long time.
I’m glad our border is safe to cross – it means it isn’t being bombed or it isn’t lined with snipers.
I’m glad that we can meet people’s immediate needs while determining the validity of their claim. What kind of people would we be to deny such things? Should people go hungry and sleep on the streets? Should they be denied medical care when they need it?
I’m glad people don’t have to be on a leaky boat to get to us, and are far away from the hellish circumstances that put them on the move in the first place.
All of this means I’m living in a safe country that is not being torn apart by war, persecution, corruption or a whole host of other things that people must flee from.
The claims process is not easy – in fact, it is downright intrusive, skeptical, and demanding. Which means, if someone is accepted as a refugee claimant it’s because they have proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they had a personal target on their back that already has strike marks on it!
Let’s not begrudge them simply because they have a suitcase and their clothes aren’t tattered.
As for having nothing to lose…
If your claim is denied and you are deported you don’t come back to Canada – EVER – under any circumstances. If your claim is accepted it is because you have lost everything already. So in that sense I guess, yes, they have nothing to lose because all they have is their suitcase as they stand in line. Perhaps they should lose that too before we are kind to them.
Winnipeg, 20 September 2017 – Dear Church Leaders and Friends: As you know, City Church has been working for over three years to create a refugee ministry center. We are excited to tell you that last Monday we received our occupancy permit and yesterday our live in care takers and director of the program moved into the building. We are planning on having our first residents move in on October 2nd.
Naomi House will have up to twenty people living in the facility for up to six months at a time. It is intended to be a transitional home for newly arriving refugees and refugee claimants. Additionally, we will be offering programming for former refugees on the main floor.
Our desire is to do this in partnership with the churches in Winnipeg. We see this ministry centre as an “on ramp” for churches to involve themselves in the lives of refugees.
We would be honored if you and members of your church would join us on Sunday, October 1, 2017 for our grand opening and dedication service.
2017 September 05
Fear. It is a very powerful emotion. Each one of us has known fear at one time or another. Fear of failing an exam; fear of losing one’s job; fear of the unknown; fear of losing somebody close; fear of dying… Nobody likes to live in fear. At the heart of every fear is the feeling of insecurity. And human beings spontaneously look for security.
For a few weeks now, we have seen the daily arrival of Haitians who are claiming refugee status on Canadian territory. They are coming here because they fear that the American administration will send them back to Haiti as of January 2018. It is at this time that the United States may put an end to special measures giving them temporary protected status over there. Returning to Haiti represents a huge insecurity for these people because conditions over there are often extremely difficult. That is why these refugee claimants deserve that we listen to what they have to say.
This widely covered arrival of refugee claimants crossing the border has also, apparently, given way to some insecurity within many Canadians. Many of our fellow citizens fear that their social benefits will be in danger by allowing these people to enter our country, because, during some time, these newcomers receive limited support from the state. Others fear they will lose their jobs or not find any, thinking these newcomers will take them. Even though these fears are largely unfounded, our co-citizens also deserve to be listened to with respect.
Many of us know the famous story of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s novel, « Les Misérables » written in the 19th century. When he was a young adult, Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread. That act, of itself, is reprehensible. The baker deserves to be paid for his labour. We can therefore condemn Jean Valjean and say that justice has been done. But as we read the story, we discover that Jean Valjean stole that bread to feed his sister, who had recently been widowed, and her seven children. He was a pruner, a seasonal worker; and during the off-season, he could not find work. His nieces and nephews were hungry; he therefore stole some bread. By getting to know the character a bit more, with his story and the reasons that led to that act, we come to feel compassion for him.
All of us, before passing judgement, should we not go and meet the stranger who has just arrived, to listen and discover a bit more on his life? We would therefore see that he is not all that different from us. He too wants to work; he too wants to feed his family; he too wants to educate himself; he too wants stability and a better life for his children. Unfortunately, all those things we take for granted in Canada are very difficult, if not impossible at this time in Haiti.
Of course, we need to work towards creating the socio-political and economic conditions that would allow Haitians to live with dignity in their own country without being forced to find exile elsewhere. But that will take years and will demand changes; changes in our politics regarding international aid as well as at the level of the political and institutional leadership in Haiti itself. But until that time, we must expect that Haitians will look for a better life elsewhere. Can we really blame them? How many people from Atlantic Canada have gone to find work in the oil patches of Alberta in the past 50 years? How many Irish people came to Canada in the middle of the 19th century because they were starving to death in Ireland?
We often hear that « we cannot take on all of the world’s problems ». Fair enough. However, a few thousand people is far from being “all of the world’s problems”. Let’s keep a bit of perspective: Lebanon (a state of 4 million people) has welcomed 1 million Syrian refugees in the last few years. In 2001, close to 45,000 refugee claimants arrived in Canada; for 2017 (from January until June) we have a little more than 18,000. Therefore, everything is quite relative…
Maybe the fear of the refugee is not so much because he is different from us, with his customs, his culture, his religion… Maybe the fear of the refugee comes more from the fact that he reminds us of our own human fragility; that we ourselves could someday become homeless, exiled and in search of a refuge… Speak to Montrealers who were victims of the flooding this past spring or residents of Fort MacMurray who lost their houses in the forest fires last year.
We could easily conclude that the situations of the refugee claimants, as well as the victims of floods and fires, that «they are not my problems! » But one day, each one of us risks being in a precarious situation… What then when the other tells us: « I’m sorry, but that is not my problem »?
To ask that question, is to return to the foundation of our common humanity and to the essential links of solidarity that weave together a society.
– Norbert Piché, Country Director Jesuit Refugee Service – Canada