Syrian Refugee Crisis Update for Residents of London, Ontario: I was interviewed yesterday on Steve Garison’s talk-radio show about the London, Ontario’s support of Syrian Refugees.
It provided a good opportunity to describe some of the efforts taking place in London: our achievements, our stumbles, our plans. I thought I would recap the main points here.
We have divided our tasks into four: Advocacy, Fund Raising, Processing Sponsorship Applications, and Welcoming/Settling Families. For each, we formed a “task force” with a coordinator. They are, respectively: Jeff Eames from the London Multicultural Community Association; Corrine Rahman from the Mayor’s Office; yours truly; and the duo of Jennifer Hill of Western Ontario Friends of Refugees and Mariam Hamou of the Syrian Refugee Fund Committee. (E-mail me for their contact info should you wish to join their “task force”.)
London is doing very well on all fronts.
Our interfaith fund raising effort has amassed nearly $400,000 that we know of. I gather that it the highest amount per capita of any city in Canada. I can’t list all the examples here, but some highlights are: $57,000 collected by the Metropolitan United Church; $115,000 collected by the tri-lateral collaboration of the London Mosque, the Islamic Centre, and the Muslim Association of Canada (London); $100,000 from the Catholic Diocese; $35,000 from the Anglican Deanery; and $40,000 from the Mayor’s initiative, via the Libro Credit Union.
In terms of processing applications, the model that we came up with here in London – small groups fund raise and commit to welcome a family, but rely on an existing Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) to process their paperwork – is proving effective. Indeed, Canada’s new Immigration Minister wants to introduce it across the Country! Presently we have commitments from three SAHs to help strangers with their applications: the Catholic Diocese, the Mennonite Central Committee of Canada and the Anglican Deanery of London. I know of some 20 applications under way.
Finally, in terms of welcoming families, there are a number of initiatives on the go. There is a winter clothing drive. We are creating a web-based clearinghouse of refugee needs and volunteer offerings, including temporary housing, medical care, etc. What may be the sweetest and heartwarming initiative are two begun by London’s students: one group is organizing play times for newly arrived children, and another is crafting “welcome cards” for each of them.