Private fund helps sponsor 685 refugees across Canada

An Ottawa-based network that helped find private sponsors for 685 refugees across Canada with the backing of major philanthropists got a third of its sponsorship groups in Ottawa.

A third of more than 150 sponsorship groups are based in Ottawa

Emilie Coyle, a director at the Refugee Hub at the University of Ottawa, says major philanthropic donations helped encourage people to privately sponsor refugees. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

An Ottawa-based network that helped find private sponsors for 685 refugees across Canada with the backing of major philanthropists got a third of its sponsorship groups in Ottawa.

Canada had 1,000 unclaimed spaces for privately sponsored refugees in early August when the Refugee Fund was launched.

While the intention had been to fill all those spots, organizers are still claiming victory. 

"If you go to the airport or you go to someone's home who has just arrived, you realize every single one of those numbers is a human being," said Emilie Coyle, a director at the University of Ottawa's Refugee Hub, which helped run the effort.

In just over a month, the Refugee Fund helped assemble more than 150 sponsorship groups across Canada.

About a third of them, 52 groups, are based in Ottawa.

"We are so pleased that the Ottawa community came out in droves," Coyle said.

She said it wasn't a surprise given the strong response to the 2015 Syrian refugee resettlement and strong partnerships with local agencies.

The fund is distributing $3.5 million and started with donations from an American philanthropist, the Shapiro Foundation, and the Giustra Foundation based in Vancouver.

Other donors later joined in to help cover the cost of privately sponsoring a refugee for a year.

Sponsors and the federal government split a year of income support for refugees in the program. 

Half new sponsors

The cost of privately sponsoring a family of four is $18,100.

Coyle said the fund helped encourage people who'd sponsored before to do so again and new sponsors to commit for the first time.

"It really gave that bump," Coyle said.

"About half of the people who applied to our fund were new, brand-new sponsors. That's really excellent for us because now we can work with them and hopefully they'll do it again and encourage their friends and family."

More than 600 refugees are coming to Canada by the end of the year thanks to a lot of first-time sponsors and donors who are covering up the cost. We hear about that last-ditch effort to help from the University of Ottawa's refugee hub. 5:13

One of those groups met Tuesday night to plan for the arrival of the Syrian family they are sponsoring — a widowed woman and her four children.

Adam Moscoe, a member of the group, said the fund removed a major barrier for getting involved for the first time.

"It's basically a fund that's empowering people like myself to devote our time to welcoming a family — which it is a significant investment of time — but without that huge fundraising burden," he said.

Adam Moscoe, at centre, says the Refugee Fund helped connect his group with people who were more experienced in resettlement. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Moscoe said the group has divided up the work to make sure they commit to supporting the family for a year, but the most urgent need is housing.

"Once we get into the apartment, it's about setting it up as best we can, so the family has a great base from which to launch their new life in Canada," Moscoe said.

Midia Shikh Hassan is messaging the group her family is sponsoring and says they are eager to come to Canada, though unsure what to expect. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The group includes young professionals, retirees and people who have sponsored refugees before to split the load.

Midia Shikh Hassan, a member of the group who is no stranger to refugee issues, has been messaging the family and getting sizes for winter clothes.

"They're very excited to be here. They actually want to go back to school and to get to know us," she said.