Fritznel Richard intended to be with his family in the United States this past Christmas. Tragically, authorities found his body in Quebec near the notorious and illegal Roxham Road border crossing. Mr. Richard was trying to get back into the U.S. and instead died of hypothermia.
According to the CBC, Mr. Richard and his family had found their way to Canada from Haiti over a year ago. But because of federal and provincial delays in getting work permits and health coverage, his wife and one-year-old son returned to relatives in the U.S., again via Roxham Road. But Roxham Road did not work this time in late December. Knowing he was lost and freezing to death, he called his wife to say, “I love you,” and “Goodbye.”
We ask two questions. First, why do people take such huge risks? Whether it is the family of Syrian two-year-old Alan Kurdi, who washed up on the shore of a Greek beach in 2015, or the Patel family of four, who froze to death near the U.S. border in Manitoba last January, what drives people to take such life and death risks? Intuitively, we might know the reasons; they want for their children what we have: health, safety, security and education – in short, hope for a future. These are migrants. And then there are refugees. The difference between migrants and refugees is that refugees can’t go home. Refugees have been driven out. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) estimates that global forced displacement reached 103 million people by the middle of last year; this includes more than 32 million refugees. Families like the Richards, Kurdis and Patels leave their homes for a myriad of reasons. Refugees are driven out and flee for their lives. It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to see that the global refugee crisis is only going to deepen.
Second, individuals and families seeking hope and a home in Canada take such risks to leave because of frustration with the Canadian immigration procedures. The bureaucracy in Canada seems not only unjust but deathly slow. As of last September, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) reported more than 900,000 refugees are in the backlog. It seems that the IRCC is critically under-resourced.
In the midst of this, it is mystifying why the IRCC has made things more difficult for Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAH) or SAH-organizations who are authorized to resettle overseas refugees. The IRCC has just laid out new and detailed eligibility criteria: all Sponsorship Agreement Holders must be able to demonstrate that they can monitor their caseloads, prove financial viability, be properly trained, and have a detailed operations structure, among other things. We would agree that such accountability is essential when dealing with the globe’s most vulnerable people. Yet we are perturbed to read that such regulations are forcing smaller Sponsorship Agreement Holders to shut down.
In particular, a Jan. 17 article in The Toronto Star alarmed Anglicans in the Diocese of Toronto when it pictured Bishop Anna Greenwood-Lee of the Diocese of British Columbia. Bishop Greenwood-Lee is concluding her diocese’s status as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder, citing the heavy bureaucracy of the IRCC’s new rules. Anglicans of the Diocese of Toronto have asked, “Well, what about us? We know we have a robust sponsorship commitment. Are we having to close down our work, too?” The answer is no. The Anglican United Refugee Alliance (AURA) can manage the new IRCC requirements. In our diocese, churches sponsoring refugees are supported by AURA. AURA has already submitted all the required documentation to the IRCC. So in our diocese, there is no need for concern.
AURA is the go-to organization for assisting Diocese of Toronto churches in our ministry of sponsoring the world’s refugees, as we are called to do by Jesus’ commandments to love our neighbour and welcome the stranger. AURA has a full-time operations director, a full-time sponsorship director, and a part-time sponsorship assistant. Further, AURA has an active working board of eight directors. Last year, AURA worked with more than 750 people in 50 Anglican parishes and 84 active sponsor groups to welcome 323 refugees to Canada. Moreover, these new residents were properly supported, cared for, and loved. The IRCC continues to recognize AURA’s competency and increases annually the number of sponsorships we can hold. AURA’s board and staff are currently conducting a review of our policies and procedures to increase our capacity.
With climate change gripping the planet and war seizing nations, the need for increased Sponsorship Agreement Holders is here, but clear oversight, monitoring and supervision are a necessity. Canada needs to think hard about how it can increase the capacity of SAHs. It needs to welcome refugees in a timely way. And AURA is thinking about how we can support smaller SAHs. We need to continue to work with the IRCC to increase the Canadian capacity to welcome refugees safely to a new home.
The Rev. Stephen Drakeford, a retired priest of the Diocese of Toronto, is co-chair of AURA’s board of directors. To learn more or get involved, visit AURA’s website, auraforrefugees.org.