Diocese of B.C. urges Canada to accept more refugees

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Rebecca Siemens (right), diocesan refugee program co-ordinator, speaks with a woman hoping to sponsor as refugees members of her family who are still in Syria. Photo: Contributed
Rebecca Siemens (right), diocesan refugee program co-ordinator, speaks with a woman hoping to sponsor as refugees members of her family who are still in Syria. Photo: Contributed

The Anglican diocese of British Columbia has urged the Canadian government to increase its targets for refugee resettlement to allowat least 7,000 more refugees to enter the country this year.

In a statement released February 7, the diocese noted that Canada has set a target for 25,000refugees to be resettled in 2017, compared to the previous year’s target of44,800.

Given the “unprecedented need for refugee resettlement” inthe wake of a U.S. government executive order suspending refugee admissions for120 days, the statement urged Ottawa to “continue to show leadership” inrefugee resettlement.

“We recognize that we cannot fill the vacuum the U.S.government has left, but we must do what we can,” it said.

Using statistics from Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipCanada (IRCC),the statement noted that of the 25,000 refugees to be resettled in Canada, thegovernment plans to sponsor 7,500. Of the remainder, 16,000 will be sponsoredprivately, and 1,500 will be Blended Visa Office-Referred refugees (BVOR),supported by both government and private sponsors.

These numbers indicate a significant decline from thetargets set in 2016, when, according to IRCC, the government promised to resettle 25,000 government-assisted refugees, andhelp support 3,000 BVOR refugees.

The statement urged Canada to increase resettlementefforts so that government and BVOR refugee sponsorships in 2017 are “at leastequal to” the number of privately sponsored refugees.

Following the U.S. executive order, Canadian Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau tweeted that Canada would welcome those “fleeing persecution,terror & war,” but his government has yet to announce any changes to itsrefugee resettlement targets.

The diocese of British Columbia said it is currentlysponsoring 268 refugees, an effort being supported by “over 500” volunteers. Thisincludes a partnership with the Islamic Centre of Nanaimo and Al-Iman Mosque inVictoria that has focused on supporting Muslim refugees.

The statement also denounced the January 29 attack on aQuebec City mosque that left six worshippers dead, and expressed “outrage” atthe U.S. executive order, which, in addition to suspending refugee admissions,temporarily bans entry to the U.S. for citizens of Sudan, Somalia, Yemen,Syria, Iraq, Iran and Libya.

In an interview with the AnglicanJournal, diocesan communications officer Catherine Pate said that while thediocese has been involved in refugee work for some time, in 2016 it took theadditional step of hiring a refugee co-ordinator, Rebecca Siebert.

“There is a lot of energy in the diocese for refugeeresettlement and support,” said Pate, noting that the diocese sees refugeeresettlement as part of a larger commitment to local and global reconciliationefforts.

Pate and Siebert both noted that the energy behind thestatement came predominantly from volunteers involved in working with andadvocating on behalf of refugees.

Pate said they are considering redrafting the statement as aletter to the government.

“I assume that that is the next step,” she said.

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André Forget
André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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