The Diocese of Toronto has declared June 4 as Refugee Sunday, a time for everyone to reflect on refugee issues and learn about getting involved. This story is provided by AURA (Anglican United Refugee Alliance), of which the diocese is a member.
In March 2019, a student named Louise walked into the AURA office in Toronto, asking if we could help sponsor her 19-year-old brother, Moses. Moses was living in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwestern Kenya. Originally from Sudan, Louise and Moses had grown up in Kakuma, a camp of more than 200,000 people that has been over capacity since 2014. We took her information but told her that since AURA receives thousands of requests each year, it was unlikely we would be able to find her a sponsor group. Private sponsorship of refugees is an amazing program, but it is difficult to access. At AURA, we wish we could help everyone who comes to us, but we take great care not to create false hope.
A few days after Louise’s visit, Marin Lehmann-Bender, AURA’s sponsorship director, had an idea. The refugee sponsor group at Trinity College had recently finished another sponsorship and had some remaining funds. With Louise studying at the University of Toronto, it could be a good partnership. AURA approached the Rev. Canon Andrea Budgey, the Trinity College chaplain and sponsor group lead, who said yes almost immediately. With this enthusiasm, Marin started the process of developing Moses’ case. Many meetings, phones calls, interviews and documents gathered led to a strong final application. With the commitment of a great team from Trinity College and the invaluable help of St. Stephen in-the-Fields, AURA submitted Moses’ application for resettlement to Canada in July 2019.
Two weeks later, AURA’s sponsor group from St. Bartholomew, Regent Park welcomed a Sudanese family who, like Moses and Louise, had spent many years in Kakuma. This family had been separated from their two-year-old son, who remained in Kenya when they travelled to Canada. His name was also Moses. Marin worked with the sponsors and the family, trying different routes to reunite little Moses and his mother Sarah, finally submitting an application in December 2019 through a special exception to Canada’s moratorium on sponsoring unaccompanied minors.
Little Moses’ application was progressing unusually quickly. But when the pandemic hit and everything slowed down, entry restrictions caused refugee arrivals to cease almost entirely. While he would have been allowed to enter Canada, Little Moses was too young to travel alone. The International Organization for Migration usually arranges escorts for unaccompanied minors but couldn’t in this case because of Canada’s entry restrictions. It is impossible to describe what it means for a mother to face one delay after another when she’s waiting to reunite with her child.
Then Marin had another idea: What if Big Moses (as we affectionately came to call him) could bring Little Moses to Canada? Would he be willing? Would Little Moses’ mother consent? Could the Canadian embassy finalize Big Moses’ application quickly enough for this to work? Would the government of Canada even allow it?
After conversations with both families and sponsor groups, AURA pitched this idea to a resettlement officer at the Canadian embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. He agreed that this was the best solution and was exceedingly helpful in moving Big Moses’ application forward as quickly as possible. As a final step before travel was arranged, we suggested the two Moseses meet one another in Kenya. But by that time, they had both moved out of Kakuma Refugee Camp. To our delight and surprise, they were both in the same town in Kenya—approximately a 10-hour drive from Kakuma! They met, and Big Moses formally agreed to assume the responsibility of accompanying Little Moses, now four years old, on a two-hour flight to Ethiopia followed by a 15-hour flight to Toronto. The Moseses arrived safe and sound in August 2021. Big Moses went straight to the hotel for a then-mandatory quarantine, and Little Moses went straight into his mother’s arms.
After countless hours of working on applications, consent forms, declarations and quarantine plans, after hundreds of emails and phone calls with family members, lawyers, sponsors, the government of Canada and resettlement partners, AURA’s plan worked. The Moseses now call Toronto home, and two more refugees found freedom, family and safety in Canada.
Many hands moved the Moseses forward on their unusual journey to Canada. Dozens of individuals were directly involved in making this incredible resettlement a reality. We have no doubt that the Moseses will, in turn, impact dozens of lives, and the ripple effects of their being here will go on for decades to come.
Your parish can sponsor refugees. This requires forming a group, raising money and committing to helping a refugee or family settle into your community. Parishes often partner with other faith groups, community groups or local relatives of refugees to work together for sponsorship. To learn more, visit www.auraforrefugees.org.
Resource materials for Refugee Sunday, including fact sheets, FAQs, prayers and worship resources, will be available on both the diocesan and AURA’s websites.