An ‘Agonizing’ Decision

Three refugee sponsorship groups in the Presbyterian Church have had to consider making an “agonizing” decision.

Toward the end of August, some sponsorship groups received letters informing them that, due to delays in processing their sponsored refugees’ cases, they may be offered new cases of families that are cleared and ready to travel.

If a replacement is offered, a group has a week to decide whether to sponsor the new family or to stick with the family with whom they were originally matched. If a group chooses to sponsor the new family, the government has indicated their original family would­—if eventually approved—come to Canada as government-assisted refugees. If they decide to keep their existing case, they must wait indefinitely to see when or if the family will be cleared for travel.

“If we have to make this decision, or if our session has to make this decision, it’s going to be a very agonizing one,” said Klaas Kraay, the head of the refugee sponsorship team at Beaches, Toronto. His team was matched with a family of three in Turkey.

“Our session would be asked to decide between being loyal, in a way, to the family whom we have committed to sponsor, with whom we’ve been in communication, for whom we’ve been collecting everything from toys to furniture to tools—but not knowing if they’re ultimately going to come—versus helping a family that has been approved that we could help more quickly.”
As the Record went to press, the team at Beaches received word they were being offered a new family similar to the one with whom they had been matched. As of press time, no decision had been reached.

Another group, this one at Lakeshore St. Andrew’s in Tecumseh, Ont., faced the same choice. They decided to accept a new family.

A third team made up predominantly of members from Rosedale, Leaside, and Morningside-High Park churches in Toronto, could have to make the decision in the future.

All three groups were matched with families through the Blended Visa Office Referred program during the government’s push to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. They had expected the families to arrive quickly.

The tri-church sponsorship team got word in January that their family could arrive in as little as three days.

“We’d already raised about $60,000,” said Rev. Wes Denyer, minister at Rosedale. “We’d wound up our teams to go. And then we waited, and we waited, and nothing happened.”

While waiting, the team got in touch with the family of four, who are currently in Jordan. They were packed up and ready to go because they had also been told they could be leaving on a moment’s notice.

“The drama is not really here with our sponsorship group,” he said. “The drama is really in Amman, Jordan, with a family waiting to come here to Canada.”

Denyer said his sponsorship group has “had lots of discussions and lots of strong opinions expressed” about whether or not the group should accept a travel-ready family if one is offered. They haven’t made a decision yet and won’t unless they have to.

Speaking strictly for himself, Denyer said he would choose to keep the existing case. “Obviously they [the refugees] have no power whatsoever. But we continue to have some power here. … My feeling is we just need to stand by this family, we need to stay the course and continue to harass our MPs and try to get something happening.”

Sometimes stories about the dilemma facing sponsorship groups have emphasized “how difficult it is for the sponsorship group to wait,” Kraay said. “I just want to emphasize that that’s an extremely minor difficulty relative to the difficulty the families face. It’s a little bit frustrating for us, but our lives continue and that’s just not the case for people who are caught up in the biggest refugee displacement since World War II.”


About Connie Wardle

Connie Wardle is the Presbyterian Record's senior writer and online editor.