Local refugee resettlement group, Stratford Welcomes Refugees, looking for new sponsorship groups

The Stratford Beacon Herald

Galen Simmons The Stratford Beacon Herald Sep 26, 2022  

As a local refugee resettlement group nears its next fundraising goal of $24,000 — the amount required to settle a family of four in Stratford — it will host a meeting next week to educate prospective sponsorship groups about what it takes to sponsor a local refugee family.

Stratford Welcomes Refugees and the Mennonite Central Committee-Ontario, the organization that holds the funds raised by the Stratford resettlement group and distributes funding to sponsorship groups, will host the meeting at Avondale United Church Oct. 4 at 7 p.m.

“We’re at the stage where there’s enough money that will be available that we can start exploring the possibility of sponsorship groups,” said Geoff Williams, a volunteer with Stratford Welcomes Refugees. “We’re looking for people who would be interested in learning more about it and also potentially either being a sponsorship group or belonging to one.”

To qualify as a potential sponsorship group, Williams said the group must include at least 10 members who can, with the funding provided, connect the refugees with the services and supports they need after arrival. Those services and supports include connecting refugees with housing, health care, English as a second language courses, schools, drivers’ education, employment opportunities and the community as a whole.

“It’s kind of a social support to help integrate them into the community,” Williams said. “The financial support comes from the money we raise and the federal government. The commitment is to support the refugees for a year and try to make sure they’re integrated well into the community at the end of that time.”

Stephanie Schreuders, a migration and resettlement associate with the Mennonite Central Committee, will lead the meeting, taking those present through the refugee experience and how refugees are supported in Canada. A panel of people who were previously involved in sponsoring refugees will also be on hand to share their experiences and answer questions.

While Williams said several faith and community groups have stepped up in the past to sponsor refugees as they resettle in Stratford, there is ample opportunity for individuals or groups of friends, family and neighbours to form their own sponsorship groups.

Unlike organizations that help resettle refugees amid immediate crises like the war in Ukraine, potential refugees that qualify for resettlement under the Stratford Welcomes Refugees program come from countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and the Central African Republic. These people have usually been refugees for years and are unable to return to their home country.

They are highly vulnerable due to many factors, which can include health issues, sexual violence, discrimination and trauma from war, and they have been screened and approved by both the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Since 2015, Stratford sponsorship groups with the help of the community, volunteers, donors, Stratford Welcomes Refugees and the Mennonite Central Committee, have resettled seven families under the program. Williams said the group will continue to raise money for this program in the hopes of resettling more refugees in the future.

For more information and to learn how to help, visit stratfordwelcomesrefugees.ca.