Haida Gwaii Sponsorship Joys and Sorrows

We are totally grateful to the generosity of Haida Gwaiians and folks from all across British Columbia, Canada and even the United States. Your donations have helped the Sirhans with dental treatments and medical trips to Vancouver. Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts!

Successful Dental Surgery
With the assistance of our local dentist, we flew Aya, Shahid and Alaa out to Vancouver in early February to have their dental surgery with a paediatric dentist. After almost nine hours, the dentist fixed a total of 38 cavities, some gum disease and infected teeth.

New Leg for Douaa
On January 12, Douaa flew to Vancouver with Hassan and she received her new walking leg! Here’s a video link to the day she was fitted her new leg.

This little 5-year-old girl is determined to walk again. Since her return to Haida Gwaii, she is able to participate in dance classes, PE and independently check out the equipment at playgrounds.

Our Next Steps
Shahid will fly off again to Vancouver as she now has a medical appointment with an orthopedist at BC Children’s Hospital on March 27.

Both Shahid and Douaa were injured in Syria when the rocket hit their house. According to the doctor, Shahid needs multiple knee surgeries to correct her bone growth till she is a young adult.

Douaa will also need to eventually head off to Vancouver for her paediatric dental care in the next few months. Hassan and Lama had undergone a few dental treatments to fix cavities and infections.


Our sincere condolences to Hassan, his parents and siblings who are still in Syria. His older brother Abdullah and another White Helmet volunteer died on March 20 when their vehicle was hit by a missile.

Abdullah was the Director of the Syria Civil Defence in Dara’a. He and hundreds of White Helmet volunteers work so hard in saving lives. Abdullah left behind his wife and five young children.

Here is White Helmet’s tribute to Abdullah on the Syria Campaign page. It is sad to see that the civil war in Syria has impacted many innocent lives.
If you would like to learn more about The White Helmets, you can check out their website or view the 40-minute documentary “The White Helmets” on Netflix. This documentary recently won an Oscar in February. Syrian cinematographer Khaled Khatib was denied entry to the U.S. to attend the Oscar ceremony.

Hassan’s heart wrenching interview about his brother Abdullah was aired this morning on CBC’s Daybreak North. Here’s the link to the web story and sound recording – http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/haidagwaii-refugee-in-mourning-after-brother-is-killed-in-targeted-attack-1.4037130




Copyright © 2017 Operation Refugees Haida Gwaii, All rights reserved.
Thanks for supporting our new Syrian friends.

Our mailing address is:
Operation Refugees Haida Gwaii
Box 807
Queen Charlotte, BC V0T 1S0

Add us to your address book


The Best Thank-You from Haida Gwaii

A donor has chosen to share with us the most beautiful thank-you from a sponsorship group to which she contributed: Refugee Sponsors Haida Gwaii:

Amazingly, not everyone agrees with Trump’s “Me First” version of compassion and grace towards Muslim refugees, but there was a piece in the local paper about the efforts made by residents of the Islands Haida Gwai (just off the coast of BC) who had sponsored more refugees than they could comfortably handle and so they were appealing for financial assistance.  I joined in with others to send them help and the below lovely photos show gratitude returned ten-fold.


rshg01 rshg02 rshg03 rshg04 rshg05





Senate Report on Refugees Hits the Mark

Canada4Refugees broadly and enthusiastically supports the recommendations made this week by the Human Rights Committee of the Senate, aimed at better meeting the needs of refugees coming to Canada.

The report outlines the way forward for the Trudeau government on issues relating to refugees: better support for private refugee sponsor groups; shorter processing times for refugee claims; greater transparency by government and better support for refugees already arrived in Canada.

The committee’s report says government-assisted refugees (GARs) currently receive inadequate financial and social supports. It also says that settlement agencies claim to be underfunded, with the result that services to assist refugees’ success in Canada are too limited.

The Senate Committee also recommends that the federal government pay refugees’ airfares to Canada, rather than requiring refugee families to start their life in Canada thousands of dollars in debt. Canada4Refugees has advocated this position since the government stopped paying airfares for refugees earlier year.

The report notes that many sponsorship groups are frustrated because the Syrian refugees they are sponsoring have not arrived after many months of waiting, and also by reports that the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) department agrees that the `demand’ by sponsorship groups to host refugees “significantly exceeds supply.”

The chair of the committee is Senator Jim Munson. The deputy chair is Senator Salma Ataullahjan.

The full report is here: Senate Committee Report.

Canada4Refugees will be writing to the government and members of the Parliamentary Committee to push for the quick adoption of these recommendations.

We urge sponsor groups to write their Members of Parliament, asking them to support the recommendations and also indicate their support to Mr. McCallum.

Titled `Finding Refuge in Canada: A Syrian Resettlement Story’, the Senate report reiterates many of the problems sponsorship groups have been pressing for months. It proposes a dozen reasonable recommendations, which the government should enact right away.

Among the committee’s recommendations:

  • The IRCC should improve processing times and be more transparent about processing of refugees.
  • More resources should be provided to settlement agencies and programs such as ESL (and child care for those participating in ESL), for youth and for mental health needs.
  • The government should provide better support for sponsor groups, both those wishing to choose refugee families for resettlement, and those wishing to help so-called Blended Visa Office Referred (BVOR) refugees, which are assigned to sponsor groups by the government.
  • The government should cover transportation costs rather than requiring refugees to pay them.
  • Programs to keep extended refugee families united should be improved.

(On the same day the report was released, IRCC Minister John McCallum announced that the time for family re-unification of non-refugees will be cut from 24 months to 12 months, and the re-unification guide will shrink from 150 to 75 pages. No similar measures have been announced for refugees seeking to keep their extended families together.)

John Sewell for

Settling In – The Qualicum RSG Experience


Kyin Thaung with Mayor Westbroek at the family “Meet & Greet” in September

I have been out of communication for quite some time now so wanted to send you all a little update on how things are going. The family is doing wonderfully and continue to amaze us with their adaptability and their eagerness to make the most of their new life here. The four oldest children are all in school full time now while the youngest is in play school. Mom and dad are attending formal language training 5 mornings per week in Nanaimo as well as working part-time. There are also additional tutoring sessions with everyone throughout the week and of course all of the normal extracurricular activities like soccer, dance, basketball, swimming, etc. Just like any other Canadian family with 5 kids it’s a VERY busy household!


Eh Nyaw Paw enjoying the toys at daycare

We recently received some exciting news from Knox United Church in Parksville. They have decided to fund raise with the goal of repaying the family’s travel/medical loan! With the exception of Syrian refugees who arrived to Canada within a specified period of time, all refugees to Canada are required to pay back the cost of their travel expenses as well as medical examination fees and other administration fees. In the case of the family we sponsored that load amounts to almost $10,000! Starting a new life in a new country is stressful enough without that extra debt hanging over them so it’s wonderful that Knox United has stepped up to the plate to help! Please support their efforts by spreading the word and helping out in other ways if you can.


P’yo Yo in shop class at KSS

Our volunteers continue to be involved in many ways, from driving and tutoring to help with shopping and cheering on the children’s soccer games. If you are interested in checking out any of the soccer games you can find the schedules and other information here:
Oceanside Youth Soccer
Harbour City F.C.


Kyin Thaung, Ta Paut Mu, Myint Oo, Pyint Thu Zar and Hla Nainq Oo on the 1st day of school


Ah Dee working at DemXx

The teams are Youth Regional League U18 Boys Oceanside, U15 Boys Oceanside 1, and U12/13 Girls Oceanside 1. All are color yellow. The youngest boy is on the U8 Boys (Pony) team #4 that plays Saturdays, 9:00 am at the Parksville Community Park.

Many thanks to all of you for your continued efforts and support!


Carol Doering
Chair, Qualicum RSG

Newcomer Arrival -The Galiano Experience

newcomersOur greeting group were so happy with how plans turned out at the airport and getting back over to the Island. The four newcomers completed their border checks in record time and were in the International Arrivals Lounge before we even knew it! There they were… lovely R in fashionable black puffy parka and cornrow braids, E taking easy charge of his little sister, and serene and grateful M. They had been traveling since Sunday and so were exceedingly tired. We opened up the clothes bag and were grateful for Anna’s provisions for all. The scarves they wrapped around themselves immediately – staying warm will be a challenge!

Setting out, we stopped at the outdoor vegetable market in Steveston where M elected to get out of the car and have a look around while E helped pick out familiar-looking vegetables. Then all rallied with a trip into Winners for shoes, socks and other necessaries. The ferry line-up proved a good place for the two women to catch short naps in the car while E and Bruce shared some Chinese food in the concourse.

Once back on Galiano, Diana and I went in to orient them somewhat to the house. It will be perfect for them and what a wonderfully well-stocked kitchen Janice has provided! Before we left for the night, M put on her long patterned African skirt, gathered R, D, Diana and me into a circle and said a prayer of thanks for their safe arrival and their warm welcome. What a wonderful day!

Tomorrow Jan and I will go over in the morning and Quetzo and Janice will go over in the afternoon. A schedule will develop as we begin to see their needs and how each of us with our unique skills can fill these needs. Stay tuned!

Thanks to everyone for the parts you have played in ensuring our progress thus far. Lots of learning still to do but we are so happy the start of their time here has gone so very well!

by Marian Lowry

Preparing for newcomers – The Galiano experience

Public Meeting, September 18:

Newcomers Coming!

As Galiano anticipates the arrival of four newcomers to this island, preparations are underway to make their integration into island life as easy as possible. With many questions to be answered about how all this might work, a public meeting was held on September 18 at the South Hall where presenters gave updates to islanders about the four people about to join our community. They are coming from west Africa, from Cote d’Ivoire. The two women, one of whom has two small children, will be living in the suite in a house near the school.

The main issues of language and cultural integration were a focus of discussion; as well, Janice had on display a variety of food items that will be stocked in the house for the arrival of people who more than likely will not be familiar with some of the packages they will encounter on our grocery shelves. The more than forty attendees at the meeting were made aware of the degree of preparation to date, and the fact that while we know who is coming our way, we don’t yet know very much about them. For example, we can only guess at their clothing requirements, coming from equatorial Africa at this time of year.

We can at least anticipate that their transition here will be challenging in some ways, easy in others, and with the guidance of the counseling team we are working to co-ordinate our efforts and make it the best possible experience for these newcomers. The practical challenges of transportation for medical appointments and shopping, using our currency, dealing with household appliances, building trust and getting to know individuals on the team, and language acquisition are all factors we have to take into account. And there are more, no doubt: the best laid plans should have a back-up, and the team has done a lot of thinking and projecting in order to minimize the surprise factor for ourselves.

It should be interesting!


Team Training, September 20

Following the public meeting, Tuesday saw the Support Project assembled at the Lions’ Hall for a half-day training session with two presenters from the diocese in Victoria. Malcolm and Betty took us through scenarios typical for new arrivals and their sponsoring groups, and small group discussions allowed everyone to express a point of view and brainstorm solutions. It was easy to see how relevant the scenarios presented were to our anticipated experience, and it was a valuable exercise in creating dialogue and sharing concerns.

It was reassuring to come away from the afternoon knowing that we had already done a lot of pre-thinking over the previous months. The issues of respecting the personal needs and rights of the newcomers—of giving them ownership of their experience—became a significant theme in our discussions. We are there to offer guidance and encouragement, and to move them toward the goal of eventual self-sufficiency over a twelve-month period. We are there to help make the right things happen for them in what will be a totally new environment, and to help them see beyond the mandated time of sponsorship.


Follow-up on Apr 13 Sponsorship Group Peer Meeting

Ideas have been flowing fast and furious since we gathered as a community last week. This email covers the following:

  1. A summary of what was covered in the meeting
  2. Ideas and developments that have emerged since then
  3. The names of those who have volunteered to be coordinating committee for this city-wide refugee support network
  4. Next steps for the coordinating committee


Meeting Notes

Government-sponsored refugees Khaled and Maura, and privately-sponsored refugees, Samira and Hani, spoke about the circumstances of their departure from Syria, their experience to date in Canada, and the most pressing needs for their settlement in Canada. Hassan Wafai interpreted and moderated the session. All four spoke most poignantly about their concerns and fears for family members left behind, and their desires to have them sponsored. They also spoke about the needs for inexpensive housing, ESL, employment, schooling for children, health and dental care, as well as fot opportunities to explore Victoria. Most notably, Khaled and Maura spoke of the struggle they were experiencing in finding affordable housing, and of the administrative barriers to securing that housing as newly arrived residents. They also noted that the resources afforded to them by the government are clearly not enough to cover even basic expenses.

Moustaffa Jammal spoke both about the efforts of the Mosque to support the resettlement effort, as well as of the range of activities that the Mosque offers. He noted that Samara Graves, a member of the mosque, issues a monthly newsletter filled with news of upcoming activities including a parent and tot ESL playgroup, Islamic girl guides, and more.

Alvaro Moreno of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Society Centre spoke about the coordination role that VIRCS is playing on the island. Its focus is to work with settlement organizations at a strategic level on critical issues including housing and employment. VIRCS also has a wrap-around program for vulnerable populations. He noted that 80 percent of the refugees arriving appear to fit the criteria, and thus would be eligible to be placed in this program, which is aimed at supporting them in their search for work, healthcare, housing and more. VIRCS also offers activities like ESL classes, playgroups, legal clinics, and wellness counselling. Any of the government or privately sponsored refugees can attend.

Mitch Hammond introduced us to http://www.refugeesforvi.wordpress.com, an excellent website and exchange platform that has been set up to support the settlement effort. It lists events, resources, discussion boards, a trading post where people can post goods they need, or would like to donate to refugee families. It also has a confidential email list-serve. If you’d like to be notified of events coming up, visit the site to put yourself on the list. The group also heard that a warehouse has been established to collect and distribute goods to government-assisted refugees. People wanting further information are to contact the website.


Recent Developments and Emerging Ideas

  1. Adopt-a-Family support for GARs (Government-Assisted Refugees). We have learned that the Tides Foundation in Ontario has set up a robust adopt-a-family support system whereby members of Syrian newcomers are paired with members of local sponsorship groups (generally those who have not yet received a privately sponsored refugee) for help with settlement, and friendship. They are then responsible for guiding them through the settlement process, including the search for housing, placing children in schools, finding a doctor, and more. While the ICA in Victoria is the settlement agency responsible for settling refugees, it has not established a program that compares to this one. Meeting attendees clearly embraced this model, and two Victoria-based sponsorship groups have since allied themselves with two GAR families, and have agreed to support them in their settlement effort. You can learn more about how Tides does it here: http://www.welcomeproject.ca.
  2. Several community members have come forward to recommend that a fund be set up to support the GARs with basic expenses such as the internet and communications and dental care
  3. Several attendees noted that it would be useful to have a monthly session that brings together community members and recently arrived refugees to continue to hear directly about the needs of the refugees, and to explore together with them how best to meet their needs. They recommended that the next such gathering take place in Langford
  4. Someone has suggested that monthly bilingual newsletter be created that can be circulated directly to sponsorship groups (in English) and the refugees themselves (in Arabic), and that it can contain the various events, camps, job notices, etc., that they can pursue. Perhaps this information can be posted and sent through the http://www.refugeesforviwebsite.wordpress.com website noted above.


Coordinating Committee

Those who have volunteered to sit on the coordinating committee of our new Victoria Refugee Support Network (for lack of a better name!) are: Judy Loukras, Jo Ann Lawson, Karen Platt, Colette Baty, Rachel Bovey, Maureen Bovey, Ricki Buckwold, Yushy Wallace, Peter Fairley, Robin Pike and Brian Rendell. That’s a large group! I’m not on that group, so if you feel you want to be on it, please email Judy Loukras.


Next Steps for the Coordinating Committee:

  1. Determine a date for the first meeting of the coordinating group
  2. Develop the terms of reference for the group
  3. Determine how to communicate with the larger group (should the email list be expanded? how to protect the list? how to ensure coherence with the list-serve on the refugee site noted above)
  4. Determine how to formalize the Adopt-a-Family program noted above – what steps need to be taken? How to collaborate with the ICA and VIRCS
  5. Discuss how to carry forward the ideas noted above including establishing the support fund, another gathering with refugees this time in Langford, and the monthly newsletter
  6. Next meeting with refugees

Rita Parik

Galiano Refugee Project


For most of us, as the dark days of winter give way to the promise of spring: we share a sense of hope, returning light, and much to look forward to in the earth returning to life. It is in our hearts to share this hope. The Galiano Refugee Project continues to meet and organize with the goal of eventually supporting a refugee or refugee family, and to share the light and life we are so richly blessed with.

Early February saw the coming together of a core group of some twenty concerned individuals to reaffirm the intent and direction of the project and further plan its implementation. Four key questions were the focus of group discussions:
–What are the newcomers expected to do in their first year?
–How can the newcomers’ cultural needs be met?
–What if the newcomers decide to move off island?
–What is our role in teaching the newcomers about money management for Galiano/Canadian life?

There are so many “unknowns” that giving definitive answers to any of the above questions is a challenge. The refugee(s) could come from any part of the world–any language group–but what they have in common is a life experience that has been torn apart by events beyond their control and a need to pick up the pieces and establish themselves in a new situation. Our group’s response requires us to be sensitive to not only their needs, but their experience and their strengths, and to take into account their own sense of direction in this experience while offering support and mentorship.

Helping “Constituent Groups” such as ours, the Anglican Diocese of BC offers what is called “Module Training” in two parts. Meeting in Victoria, some seventy-five attendees from the Vancouver Island and area (representing 40 different Constituent Groups) shared their experiences to date in the sponsorship process. They learned about the details of the Private Sponsorship program and processes, including constituent groups linked to parishes and different types of sponsorships. They also discussed how to create a “Settlement Plan” and budget, and financial models for supporting newcomers. And they shared sponsorship experiences in the day-long workshop, including discussion of cultural adjustment, and the issue of trauma and mental health.

There are still unanswered questions as the group moves forward and continues to make the goal of sponsorship a reality. While we share many of the same experiences and conditions with other sponsorship groups, each situation is unique in some way, and we are encouraged to see our uniqueness as a strength rather than a hindrance to success.

To keep up to date on developments, go to Facebook and see the new page: GalianoRefugeeProject. There will be updates, photos and contact information, and a chance to get involved as we continue to organize along with other area communities, such as Pender Island. There has already been excellent financial support through the pledge program, but we need to continue to reach the goal. To pledge financial support, please contact Sylvie Beauregard at misha@xplornet.ca. And stay tuned for more updates as the light continues to grow.

by Bruce Dolsen

Our challenge, then, will be completely different than Europe’s. Don’t look to Cologne and shudder. Look instead to the alienated suburbs of Paris and Brussels, where the children of Muslim immigrants were allowed to grow up as angry outsiders within French and Belgian society.

Esquimalt Refugee Family Sponsorship Group

It’s a go!

On Wednesday evening of December 9, the sanctuary of Esquimalt United Church was filled with 80 people, all of them interested in welcoming a refugee family to our community. Sabine Lehr from ICA (the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria) was the key speaker, laying out the enormous need for refugee resettlement, the Canadian response, and just how we, in the community of Esquimalt, can become involved.

Participants completed forms indicating how they could help with skills, time, and money. The next day our small group of organizers got together to count up cheques, pledges, and promises of help. In a nutshell, there are plenty of people committed to helping in lots of ways. And there’s enough money that we feel we can definitely go forward – pledges and donations adding up to almost $20,000. But we’re going to need more money to be able to apply for a family.

We’re feeling very hopeful. Esquimalt Municipal Council, at their December 7 meeting, gave the project official endorsement, and is considering a community grant. We’ve made contact with other communities, including the Jamatkhana mosque in Esquimalt, and hope that they will be involved in the leadership of the project. But the main fundraising thrust will come for people in the community who will reach into their pockets, and also reach out to family and friends with an invitation to donate. The funds will all be collected by ICA, our sponsoring agency, and all donations over $10 will receive a tax receipt.

We’ll soon have a website up and running, and be able to update the Esquimalt community week by week on where we’re at.

We’re excited to be able to welcome and support a refugee family in Esquimalt in 2016. To learn more about how you can help, contact esquimaltrefugeeproject@gmail.com.

To donate:

By Cheque:
Make cheques payable to ICA of Greater Victoria. On the subject line write:
CG016-15 (Esquimalt Refugee Family). Send cheques to
ICA of Greater Victoria,
930 Balmoral Rd, Victoria, BC V8T 1A8
Attention: Sabine Lehr

Go to the ICA website (http://www.icavictoria.org), click on the DONATE NOW button, and choose “Refugee Sponsorship Fund” from the dropdown menu. Then write CG016-15 (Esquimalt Refugee Family) in the message box. (Note: By clicking ‘Monthly’ you can give an automatic monthly donation.)

Contact Us: