Many of you reading this article supported private refugee sponsorship in one way or another over the past year. For some of you this may have been the first time you supported refugee newcomers. We know that the job of welcoming newcomers is not always easy or straightforward, however, we join with many who have found it to be very rewarding.
For us at MCC it has been inspiring to witness the increase in interest in refugee issues. Many communities, churches and other groups reached out to us to be matched with a family for private sponsorship. Through creative and inspiring means, fundraising goals were met, housing was found, homes were set up, and supports were put in place. These are the critical first steps in sponsorship and settlement.
We are pleased to see that the vast majority of the over 600 refugee newcomers that came to Ontario in 2016 through our private sponsorship program are settling and adjusting well. Adults are in language training and children are in school. Medical and dental issues are being addressed. However, many still need our neighbourly assistance with navigating the various systems and engaging in community here in Ontario.
As we move towards “Month 13”, we need to make sure that newcomers are supported to transition towards self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency may not immediately mean full-time employment as the transition to sustainable employment takes time given that proficiency in English is a priority for long term success here in Canada. Many refugee newcomers will transition on to social assistance programs – either Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program (OW or ODSP). However, from our experience, we anticipate that their reliance on social assistance programs will be short term. We have seen that newcomers have a strong work ethic and are keen to get to work. As well, we know that the networks and support of private sponsorship groups are a great resource for connecting newcomers to sustainable employment.
Newcomers may still need assistance in navigating the system of employment and social services that are available in Canada. Fortunately we have a variety of government funded programs that provide specialized settlement resources for newcomers. These services have trained professionals that can help newcomers acquire the various skills and knowledge needed to access the local employment market which are new concepts to many newcomers (e.g. resumes, references, networking skills, etc.). As well, refugee newcomers may need assistance in accessing professional supports to help them process any unresolved trauma as well as feelings related to family members left behind.
Most importantly, we need to work at fully embracing these individuals and families as equal members of our communities. We need to recognise that they are no longer refugees but newcomers with a great deal of potential. The next step is not only empowering newcomers to make decisions for their own lives, but also encouraging them to become equal partners in civil society and local communities. This is what integration looks like – the newcomers move past being only receivers of supports towards being invited by Canadians to join them in community building. They become another strand of cloth in our tightly woven community fabric – and as a result, our society becomes stronger and more beautiful. This last stage of integration is a process that goes beyond the 12 month commitment, but it is the end goal of MCC’s Refugee Sponsorship Program.