Culture

6 ways to support new refugees to Canada

How you can provide meaningful help to newcomers establishing themselves.

How you can provide meaningful help to newcomers establishing themselves

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

While coming to Canada means finding a safe haven for refugees, these particular newcomers still face the monumental tasks involved with starting over and wrapping their heads around a new way of life —all while processing recent trauma. Any caring, more established Canadian can play a vital role in making that new start smoother, supporting refugees at many points as they get settled. I've had the experience of participating in a sponsorship group of 35 people, which fundraised to provide for a Syrian family for a year, then helped them resettle in Toronto. Sharing in the family's journey and belonging to such a hard-working and compassionate group was life-changing. And there are many other ways to make a difference. Whether you want to raise funds or give of your time and skills, here's how you can show allyship to refugees coming to Canada.

Show new Canadians the ropes

Refugees receive basic orientation on arrival, but so many aspects of daily life still need to be explained, from navigating the transit system to finding the best deals on groceries to getting a child signed up for subsidized soccer lessons.  

In every province and territory, there are organizations that connect volunteers with newcomers. Some volunteers from my sponsorship group also worked with The Together Project, for example, an Ontario-based organization that matches groups of five or more volunteers with a newcomer family or an individual, so they can provide an informal insider's guide to life in Canada.

If you want to act as a buddy or mentor, you can also contact a community centre, refugee welcome shelter, or place of worship in your area and ask about volunteering opportunities. The Government of Canada also has a website where you can search newcomer mentorship opportunities, across the country.

Help with conversational English

Some refugees may not speak English or may not speak English fluently. If you have a background in teaching English as a second language or simply love to chat and listen, you could sign up to volunteer in an English conversation group for newcomers. Public libraries often offer discussion circles, as do some churches and universities.

Become a citizenship test study buddy

You can help refugees and other newcomers to prep for their citizenship test. There's a lot to learn in order to pass this test, about Canadian politics, industry, history, culture and laws... and not having a strong grasp of English can add an extra layer of difficulty for some refugees. Passing the hurdle of gaining citizenship is life-changing — so it's a uniquely helpful commitment to make. Search for citizenship classes online, then call to offer your services as a volunteer.

Raise funds for an organization that supports refugees

Many organizations in Canada are dedicated to resettling refugees. On a local level, you could search online for welcome shelters or community centres with a focus on helping refugees and newcomers.

You can also search by province to find a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) to support via donations. SAHs are typically not-for-profit organizations that have signed a formal agreement with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to help refugees resettle in Canada. They advise and support groups that privately sponsor refugees.

The Canadian Council for Refugees is a non-profit organization that supports family reunification, encourages information-sharing between 200 member organizations and advocates for speedier application processing among other things.

And on an international scale, the Rainbow Railroad uses donations to support LGBTQI refugees fleeing the 70-plus countries where they are routinely persecuted.

Join a local support network to find consistent ways to contribute

Many neighbourhoods, towns and cities have created grassroots Facebook groups that support refugees in various ways. Some share information about things like jobs, courses and events. Others specialize in providing new or gently used resources to new mothers or furniture for refugees moving into their first apartment in Canada. You can help with everything from donating items to driving other people's donations to a depot to connecting newcomers with local services by tapping into your own network. Use the search terms "refugee," "refugee support" or "refugee network" to find your local options on Facebook.

Help with employment

It can be hard to get a foot in the door, as a jobseeker without Canadian work experience. If you manage or own a business, be that employer who is actively seeking refugee candidates. Organizations like Hire Immigrants and the Tent Partnership for Refugees provide roadmaps for the recruitment process.


Valerie Howes lives in Toronto with her two children and three dogs. She is a senior editor for locallove.ca, where she writes and edits stories about social justice and inclusive communities. Her writing has also appeared in the Guardian UK, Globe and Mail, enRoute, Today's Parent, Chatelaine, Toronto Life , Reader's Digest, and THIS magazine, among other publications. She co-authored the Gourmand World Cookbook Award-winning book Lure, with sustainable seafood champion Ned Bell.

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