Work of the diocesan Migration office continues in the midst of the ongoing impact of COVID-19

World Refugee Day is celebrated on June 20. Longing for a world where no one has to fear for their life or liberty, the Migration Office in the diocese of Saskatoon continues its work to help groups reach out in compassion and care to sponsor and welcome refugees to a new life of safety in our community.

(Note: Some refugee names have been changed for privacy reasons)

By Jan Bigland-Pritchard, Coordinator, Office of Migration

Despite COVID-19, Canada and our diocese remain committed to refugee ministry.

There is no clear timeline for when overseas Canadian visa offices and international airlines will make new arrivals possible, but the Canadian government has reassured us that arrivals will resume, and they have also encouraged us to submit new applications for sponsorship.

Impact of COVID-19 restrictions

All refugee arrivals in Canada ground to a halt on March 18, 2020.

This was bad news for Abraham, who was due to fly from his country of refuge to a new home in Saskatoon on March 25. The impact on individuals and families who were just ready to fly has been huge. Possessions were already sold or given away, some had already left homes in the camps or small towns to travel to the big city to get the flight, when they got the bad news. So after sometimes years of waiting, they are starting over, and waiting again.

Others, like Grandma Collette, who is raising her three little grandchildren single-handed, are in places where COVID-19 panic and lockdowns have seen food costs triple. Her daughter in Saskatoon, who had been sending money for them to live on, had her work hours reduced due to COVID-19, so finding extra for Collette was a struggle. The daughter turned to her parish refugee committee, who did some rapid fundraising, and found donors willing to provide the extra $365 per month Collette needs to keep her little brood fed and healthy.

The shutdown of international travel has been agony for young Zack, who arrived in the fall and had expected by now to be reunited with and married to his fiancée of several years, who is living for now in Europe. Normally by now he would have had a Canadian travel document and could have gone to see her, but due to COVID-19 he finds that his future is once again on hold, with no clear end in sight.

Newcomers settling in

One benefit of COVID-19 is that we are in closer touch with the 28 refugee newcomers who have arrived and are still within their sponsorship year, and we find that most are doing very well.

Congratulations also to Wintana and Johannes, newcomers sponsored through Holy Spirit parish, who ‘graduated’ from sponsorship June 18. Wintana and Yohannes are both employed and also taking classes to improve their English – well done to them and to their co-sponsor Hiriti.

Related: World Refugee Day marked in Saskatoon on June 20, 2020

Moving forward

At a time of financial insecurity, there is an increased note of caution among parishes when they consider taking on new refugee sponsorships. This comes as no surprise, and is just common sense and good stewardship at the moment.

I am so glad that prior to COVID-19 the diocese had already made the difficult decision to require that the full costs for a sponsorship must be deposited with the parish or diocese prior to a new application being submitted. This means that we can have confidence that the work to which we are already committed is also already funded.

However, the worldwide need for refugee re-settlement continues to grow, and the love of Christ challenges us to continue to step up, in bad times as well as good.

How to help

What can people do to support refugee ministry in our diocese? Here are a few suggestions for how you can help:

• Spread good news stories about refugees.  Most refugee newcomers, especially those brought through private sponsors like our diocese, settle rapidly, commit to language learning, and go into full time employment very quickly. Many get involved in volunteer work in Saskatoon right away, like Naza, who has been going daily to make and distribute lunches through the Salvation Army.

• Pray for newcomer friends and acquaintances in your parish or town. They may be carrying extra burdens because of COVID-19.

• Pray for the 88 people still overseas that our diocese has applied for and who are waiting, waiting, waiting.  Pray for protection for them where they are, for provision, and for patience.

• Donate to the settlement funds for the two families of persecuted Christians from Pakistan that our diocese is bringing to Canada – the Sharoon family of four through Holy Spirit parish, Saskatoon, and the Masih family of four through St. Philip Neri parish, Saskatoon.

• Consider whether you or your parish can prepare to be a settlement team for a newcomer family.

The diocesan Migration Office has several cases at present where a family member already in Saskatoon has the necessary funds for a sponsorship, but needs a church group to walk with them through the 12-month settlement period. If you would like to explore what is involved, you can do so without any obligation on your part.

For more information about refugee sponsorship, contact Jan Bigland-Pritchard, Coordinator of the Office of Migration for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, by e-mailing: migration@rcdos.ca

To designate a financial gift to refugee aid via the diocesan Migration Office, go to the online giving page at: Catholic Foundation website

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More information for World Refugee Day:

View Video from UNHCR: LINK
Tragically, the trends in 2019 are even more sobering than the year before.
  • The number of displaced people (refugees and internally displaced) in the world increased from 70.8 million in 2018 to 79.5 million people at the end of 2019. This is 1% of the world’s population.
  • The increase from 25.9 million refugees in 2018 to 26 million refugees in 2019 was not large, but we are still talking 26 million people.
  • What this year’s report emphasizes is that fewer displaced people will find durable solutions. Many more people will live in limbo for longer.
 Resettlement – LINK
  • Roughly 0.5 per cent of the world’s refugees were offered resettlement in 2019.
  • UNHCR estimates that more than 1.4 million refugees need to be resettled, an 80 per cent increase since 2011. (p. 51 of the Global Trends Report for 2019).
  • At the end of the decade, there was only one resettlement spot available for every 20 vulnerable refugees in need. (p. 51 of the Global Trends Report for 2019.
Canada and Resettlement:
  • Article from UNHCR Canada: Canada continues to be the world leader in the resettlement of refugees: LINK
  • Canada resettled 30,100 refugees in 2019. (p. 52 of the Global Trends Report for 2019).
  • The full global trends report underlines the key role the PSR program has played in Canada’s resettlement efforts: Resettlement is primarily facilitated by UNHCR in most countries around the world. However, in Canada, almost 3 in 5 (58%) resettlement arrivals during the decade were conducted through private sponsorship resettlement schemes. (p. 52)
  • The full report goes on, on page 52, to highlight research UNHCR Canada conducted about the positive contributions resettled refugees make to Canada.

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