Report from REFUGEE LIAISON to the 2013 Annual Meeting of Saskatchewan Conference, United Church of Canada
As I always do every year, I would like to thank all those pastoral charges or groups in our conference that sponsored or tried to sponsor a refugee in the past year. Thank you to all of those that have plans to welcome strangers in their midst through refugee sponsorship program. I am so aware that there have been many challenges and changes that have definitely affected and even discouraged our will to sponsor refugees.
As a result of those challenges and changes, it has been reported that Canada welcomed less refugees in 2012 through resettlement program. Statistics show that the number was down 26 per cent from 2011 and yet, the Federal Government had pledged an increase of 20 per cent. The pledged number of refugee resettlement intake was supposed to be between 7,500 and 8,000, but only 5,412 were settled. Of those, only 4,212 were through Private Refugee Sponsorship groups of which, our church is a part. This is of course, clear proof that the government has been closing the door on refugees.
As for 2013, the aim is to welcome 6,500 Privately Sponsored Refugees, 7,000 Government Sponsored, and 1,000 Visa Office Referred refugees. That is 14,500 refugees are supposed to be welcomed into this peaceful land of Canada. As one of the Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders or as Private Refugee Sponsors, we are invited to continue doing our best, practising this way of being hospitable by welcoming or sponsoring refugees. How many of those 6,500 is our church going to welcome?
So challenging and disappointing in the refugee sponsorship world was also the idea or suggestion by the Federal Government to make cuts from the health care benefits: the removal of nearly all medication benefits for first-year refugees.
According to the minister in charge of CIC–Canadian Immigration and Citizenship, this is designed to discourage so-called “bogus” refugees from coming to Canada to exploit free social assistance. This means that, if implemented, the proposed changes will affect newly settled refugees as they won’t be able to obtain free emergency dental care, prescription drugs for chronic conditions or assisted living devices, such as wheelchairs or eye-glasses as before.
These issues and many other concerns will be part of the discussion at the upcomingNational Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAH) Conference due to meet in Vancouver, B.C., from May 27-29, 2013.
“I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me…” (Matthew 25:35-36). Taking care of the hungry, thirsty, strange, naked and sick refugee is our part and parcel of our social justice mission.
Rev. Emmanuel Menyereye