The ground swell of support for Syrian refugees in the past six months has given a Burnaby organization the boost it needs to provide more support for asylum seekers — people who apply for refugee status after landing in Canada.
Journey Home Community Society is launching a training program to help other community groups support asylum seekers, who receive little government help until they are granted asylum status. The process can take months.
"Historically there have been more asylum seekers arriving in Metro Vancouver than government or privately-sponsored refugees — this is really a hidden refugee population," said James Grunau, executive director of Journey Home Community Society.
The training program is funded by a grant from the Rotary Club of Vancouver and donations from private individuals.
About 60 per cent of those who apply for asylum in Canada are successful, according to Grunau.
Asylum seekers come to Canada from over 100 countries.
Canada is a signatory of the UN Refugee Convention, which means the country must accept asylum seekers if they are fleeing from persecution due to their "race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."
Challenges for asylum seekers
Asylum seekers sometimes arrive in Canada in desperate condition.
"Some arrive as visitors, then decide they want to stay. Some arrive as stowaways on ships. Some arrive with false documentation, human smuggling," said Grunau.
"They're seeking protection because they are running for their lives."
Once they arrive in Canada, they need to file an asylum claim, which can be complex even for Canadians trying to help them.
That's why Grunau is training other community groups on the process.
"[Asylum seekers] are looking at trying to support their refugee claim and so entering into a pretty complex legal process is a very difficult situation and that's added on top of the trauma and persecution they've already gone through in their home country."
The bigger picture
He says Canada is not pulling its weight when it comes to the number of refugees it accepts.
"If we were to look at a comparison to what some of our European friends were doing, we would be taking, on a per capita basis, hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers, not the 15- to 20-thousand per year that we're taking now."
Helping asylum seekers is not only Canada's duty, but in the country's best interest too said Grunau.
"I think if we rally around and see the opportunity to provide protection and help for these very courageous people, we'll see them really contribute to our community and society as a whole."
People interested in helping asylum seekers can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
With files from CBC Radio's The Early Edition
To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Training how to help asylum seekers.