People across the Beach and East Danforth are stepping up to sponsor refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war.
Speaking at an Oct. 5 meeting for local sponsorship groups held at Beach United Church, Alexandra Kotyk of Lifeline Syria said her office has been flooded with emails since Sept. 2, when the photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi made international news.
The Syrian toddler was found drowned on a Turkish beach, and members of his family had been trying to escape to Canada.
“The Syrian crisis had kind of dropped on people’s heads,” she said, and Lifeline Syria, which aims to bring at least 1,000 refugees to Toronto in the next two years, has since hired extra staff to keep up.
But while Kotyk welcomed the interest that saw dozens of people fill the pews at Beach United, she warned that refugee sponsorships are long and difficult as well as rewarding.
“It’s hurry up and wait,” she said.
Depending on the refugees’ country of origin and the type of process bringing them to Canada, Kotyk said it can take anywhere from six months to two years before they arrive.
To help settle a family of four, sponsorship groups must raise a bare minimum of $27,000, Kotyk said, and make a one-year commitment to provide financial help and social supports, such as helping the family find housing, schooling, jobs or language classes.
Michael Van Dusen is a member of St. Aidan’s Anglican Church, a Beach church that is one of five on the East End Refugee Committee.
While St. Aidan’s and other member churches have been quietly settling refugees for decades – they are currently awaiting a refugee family from Ethiopia – after the publication of the Alan Kurdi photo, the church leaders got dozens of phone calls from congregants offering to help.
“By the end of the next service we had pledges of thousands of dollars,” said Van Dusen.
About 30 people from St. Aidan’s and Beach United have now teamed up to form one sponsorship group, and they will host their first fundraiser on Saturday, Nov. 7.
“We understand that we could be years at this,” Van Dusen said.
But the churches do have experience, including how to handle the complex UN and federal government paperwork, as well as how to manage tax-deductible donations.
“The support isn’t just financial,” he added. “It’s helping people find schools, negotiate the TTC, helping them get documentation like drivers’ licenses and health cards.”
“They’re all basic things the rest of us have to do, but we’ve done it over our lives with the help of family.”
Anna Percy-Dove is a member of Upper Beaches Lifeline Syria, a neighbourhood group of Upper Beach and Kingston Road residents whose sponsorship efforts grew out of a community Facebook page. Similar groups have formed in other neighbourhoods, including one run by the Danforth East Community Association.
Percy-Dove said the Upper Beach group is getting help from Lifeline Syria, which has matched them to a Sponsorship Agreement Holder – an organization that has a standing sponsoring agreement with the Canadian government.
“The red tape is mind-boggling, and that’s why Lifeline Syria is so important,” she said.
So far, the group has pledges of $18,000 toward its $30,000 goal, including offers of in-kind help from local merchants.
“We really want to try and make it into a real community effort,” said Percy-Dove.
A fundraiser for the St. Aidan’s and Beach United sponsorship group will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7 at Beach United Church. The night will feature live music by the St. Aidan’s Regrets and a dinner including a vegetarian option. Tickets are $20.