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The Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) is a Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) with Citizenship and Immigration Canada. This Agreement allows our congregations to privately sponsor refugee families from war-torn countries.
Sponsoring congregations, such as Toronto First, are responsible for the “financial and moral” well-being of our sponsored families during their first year of residence in Canada.
As Syria completes its fifth year in conflict with no end in sight, more than half of the country's population is displaced, with 5 million outside the country as refugees. This remains a humanitarian crisis of unimaginable proportions. Syrian refugees are suffering in brutally difficult and horrendous circumstances in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. Fortunately, Canada has agreed to open its doors to 25,000 refugees by the spring of 2016. This 25,000 number includes a large number of private sponsorships.
In December 2015, we decided to sponsor 5 Syrian refugee families through the private sponsorship program. These families have close connections with Syrian Canadians here in Toronto (uncles, aunts, brothers, cousins, close family friends). Together, First Unitarian Toronto has partnered with the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC) to help settle them in Toronto. For each family of 4, we have raised approximately $40,000 (plus $5,000 for each additional family member) to help with rent, furniture, food, clothing, medical aid general living expenses. We are focused on family reunification: re-uniting Syrian Canadians with their Syrian refugee family members. We will be fully responsible for all their needs for one full year.
February 13, 2017 - Read our most recent updateon the end of our one year and the future of our project!
October 22, 2016 - Read our most recent update on the progress of all our families and the future of our project!
February 4, 2016 - Ahmed, Bayan, Zahr (4) and Yousef (1) arrived safely in Toronto and were greeted at the airport by their Aunt and 3 cousins. A small group of team members were there to welcome them home.
December 30, 2015 - A project update newsletter was sent to donors of the project. View the newsletter.
December 26th, 2015 - We are happy to announce Tarek, Walaa, Sedana and Nawal arrived in Toronto on Saturday, December 26th, 2015! The following day, they were reunited with their family and given a warm welcome by many members of our congregation. They have spent the past two weeks getting settled in their new apartment and have visited the Library and attended a children's play group! Photo: Margaret Vandenbroucke at the Library with the family. See photos on Facebook.
December 21, 2015 - A team of 15+ volunteers from all over Toronto came together to move in furniture and set up the home of our first family. Thank you to everyone who has donated in-kind to furnish their new home!
December 23rd, 2015 - We are featured on Al Jazeerra! “Canadians unite to sponsor Syrian refugees”
December 16, 2015 - The plenary team just keeps on growing! New and current members got acquainted over a lovely Halal potluck meal where details of the project were discussed and plans were made for the support of our two new families.
December 6, 2015 - The members of the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto unanimously voted to sponsor two more families from Syria, bringing our total number of families to 5! The team is pleased to have the continued support of the congregation and are hopeful their first family will arrive in Canada by the end of the year. Applications for families 2 & 3 have been approved by the CIC and the families now wait to be called for their screenings.
November 6, 2015 - FUNDRAISING UPDATE: Thank you to everyone at First for your support. Your generosity has astounded us.
The "Save a Family from Syria" project that we launched in May has exceeded our expectations. Our goal was to raise $40,000 to sponsor one family. In fact, members and friends of First and the Don Heights congregations donated $60,000. Now, six months later, we have received significant further donations through our website, Canada Helps, and our partner, the Muslim Association of Canada. We are going to be able to bring three Syrian families to Canada.
Our application for the first family was approved by the Canadian government in June. Tarek and Walaa are still waiting for their interview with Canadian authorities in Beirut, which we hope will come soon. We have set up a support team to help them settle in once they arrive in Toronto. We are in the process of selecting two more families with our partners, the Masjid/Toronto and the Muslim Association of Canada.
To all of you who made donations, large or small, we are grateful. Your support means that we will make a real difference in the lives of these families.
October 23, 2015 - Talek, Walaa, Sedana and Nawal would like to extend their heartfelt thanks to the children of the RE program for their wonderful gift of reading materials. The girls were ecstatic to receive them and have been devouring each page learning a little more every day. The team is still waiting patiently for our family to have their interview and are hopeful it happen soon.
October 6, 2015 - Early this week, Councillor McMahon (Ward 32) held a very well attended information session on the Syrian Refugee Crisis at Beaches United Church. Terry, Nancy and Annette manned a table and fielded questions about our Save A Family From Syria project. We received a very enthusiastic response and are following up with a number of people (and groups of people) who are interested in helping us – both financially and with settlement support. Exciting times!
September 27, 2015 - Our team was invited to table at an event at City Hall held by Councillors Joe Cressy and Joe Mihevic. The purpose was to educate the public on what their options are for sponsoring or aiding refugees. There were over 100 people in attendance and we had the opportunity to speak with many people interested in our project. At the event, Councillor Cressy announced that this week, the city will be voting on whether they will create a Toronto Syrian Resettlement Program. Listen to his interview on Metro Morning.
September 18, 2015 - Our application to sponsor a Syrian refugee family was submitted in late May, 2015. Tarek, Walaa and their little girls Sedana and Mawal live about an hour outside of Beirut in very harsh conditions. They are anxiously awaiting their call from the Canadian visa office to come in fortheir first interview.
Our box of children’s books has been received and they are very happy with them and send their thanks.
We are still trying to find ESL language tools for the parents that we can send. Our fundraising campaign within the congregation has been very successful and, with the help of the Masjid/Toronto resulted in us being able to move forward with a second sponsorship and so we are doing just that! More information on the second family coming soon.
We are concentrating on fundraising in our broader community. Past members Virginia and Keith have also been very generous. Lynn Harrison (Beaches Congregation) donated the proceeds from her music evening at the Bridge just this week. We are now aiming (and getting closer) to funding a third sponsorship!
Project team meetings are held the 2nd Tuesday of each month, and new members are welcome.
About one of the families:
Talek, Walaa and their daughters Sedana and Nawal escaped from Syria about 2 years ago. Talek had done his time in the Syrian army however when he was called up a second time to support the Syrian regime, he knew he couldn’t do what he would be expected to do and the family decided to flee the country. Together, with his father and three other families, they hired a van and fled to Lebanon, they are now about an hour outside of Beirut.
In Syria, Talek worked as a carpenter with his dad. In Lebanon, he struggles to find ways to support his family and relies on relatives from Canada to send money as the UN no longer provides an allowance to those with less than two children. Walaa, a hairdresser by profession worries about her children and how they will get an education once they are of age to go to school. Lebanon has taken on the largest amount of refugees (over one million) however, they have yet to open any formal refugee camps. As a result, anger towards the influx of Syrian refugees makes it unsafe for Walaa and her children to be on the street alone.
In the News
Canadians unite to sponsor Syrian refugees
Al Jazeera, December 23, 2015
Annette Wilde's November interview on Metro Morning
Metro Morning - November 23, 2015
Annette Wilde's July interview with Matt Galloway
Metro Morning - July 21, 2015
Annette Wilde spoke with Metro Morning's Matt Galloway about the progress of our Syrian Refugee Project. This is exciting news as our hope is the interview will reach the hearts and minds of other religious institutions in Toronto so they will take up the cause and start their own sponsorships.
Toronto effort fulfilling Canada's promise to Syrian refugees
Inside Toronto - June 16, 2015
Toronto church and mosque come together to bring refugee Syrian family to Canada
Metro News - June 15, 2015
Background on the war in Syria
Syria's Civil War: Key Facts, important players - CBC News
The global struggle to respond to the worst refugee crisis in generations - The New York Times
The latest news on the Syrian conflict - The Guardian
10 Simple points to help you understand the Syria conflict - News.com.au
Canada to resettle 10,000 more refugees over 3 years - CBC News
New rules in Lebanon means Syrian refugees live in fear - Reuters
Germany: Where the refugee flood is a solution, not a problem - The Globe and Mail
INTERACTIVE: Syrian Journey: Choose Your Own Escape Route - BBC
History of Sponsorship at Toronto First
So far, our congregation has completed the sponsorship of 3 families to Canada:
- In 1979 we sponsored a family of three from Laos. This family, in turn, was able to sponsor other family members within a few years.
- In 1988 we sponsored a family of three from El Salvador.
- In 2005 we sponsored a family from Ethiopia consisting of mother, daughter and granddaughter, following more than 3 years of waiting. Both grandmother and daughter are now gainfully employed and the granddaughter excels in her academic studies at high school.
In March of 2007, we undertook the sponsorship of a young refugee couple, two doctors from Iraq. Sadly, they withdrew their application in April 2009 citing an overly long wait time, as a promised interview failed to materialize and they have since returned to Baghdad.