Working to help refugees

Today, on World Refugee Day, we celebrate those that are making a difference in the lives of refugees right here at home in Canada and abroad. Have you ever wanted a career in helping newcomers or have you been looking for smaller ways that you can help? Our expert panel below can help you learn more about ways you can help.

Sally Dimachki (pictured above)
Project Coordinator at Refugee 613

What does your role as Project Coordinator at Refugee 613 entail?

Refugee 613 is a project created by a grassroots coalition to help build a thriving community through refugee integration. We don’t provide front-line service, we focus on providing information, connection and inspiration to our partners, the public and newly arrived refugees. This includes working with schools, volunteer groups, private sponsors and community groups to ensure that they have the knowledge, the training and the tools to be informed and mobilized to support refugees in Ottawa.

Why have you decided to focus on refugees?

As a Syrian, many of my family members are currently refugees. While I came to Canada as an immigrant, supporting refugees in Ottawa is my way of responding to the global refugee crisis, but at the local level. I think it’s important to ensure newcomers have all the tools they need to reach their full potential. I have also seen the positive impact that welcoming refugees has on a community – it brings families, neighbourhoods and even colleagues together and creates a stronger city!

What is one way Canadians can help refugees?

At Refugee 613, we like to show people that it’s easy to find their own way to support refugees, whether by learning more about the issue, sponsoring a refugee, donating to agencies supporting refugees or volunteering. Simply being a welcoming neighbour, or challenging your friends and family who have misconceptions about refugees is also very powerful. Small gestures go a long way!

Senator Ratna Omidvar

What does your role as a private sponsor of a refugee family entail?

A few years ago I founded Team Everest and helped to sponsor two Syrian refugee families through Ryerson University’s Lifeline Syria initiative. As private sponsors, we act as de facto guarantors for refugee families during the first year in Canada. In advance of their arrival to Toronto, we raised funds and developed resettlement plans. Now my team members and I spend a great deal of our spare time ensuring they are well-established in the community. This has spanned from weekend activities and late-night phone calls to helping to find language classes and mentorships with employers.

Why have you decided to focus on refugees?

I focus on refugees because I was one. As a young couple, my partner and I were forced to flee Iran with our first child during a violent revolution. I know personally how the push of displacement altered my ordinary life forever, and how complex and burdensome the global refugee system can often feel. For that reason, the plight of refugees will always be near and dear to me.

What is one way Canadians can help refugees?

Private refugee sponsorship offers everyone in Canada a tangible way to contribute to alleviating refugee crises around the world at the grassroots level. It is an occasion to connect with family members, friends, neighbours and coworkers and create an opportunity right here at home for those who have fled violence and persecution elsewhere. Whether you become a sponsor yourself or merely encourage those in your community with a donation of cash or furniture, you are making an incredible difference in welcoming a newcomer in need directly into your community.

Jean-Nicolas Beuze
UNHCR Representative in Canada

What does your role as UN Refugee Agency representative to Canada entail?

As the UN Refugees Agency representative in Canada, I support, with my team, the efforts of the government, civil society organizations, the media and the general public in favour of 68.5 million displaced persons throughout the world. On a day-to-day basis, this can mean a variety of different initiatives, like financial donations, resettlement and private sponsorship of refugees to Canada or keeping Canadian borders opened so that those fleeing conflicts and persecution find safety in Canada.

Why have you decided to focus on refugees?

Refugees, displaced and stateless persons are among the most vulnerable: being forced to leave one’s home is probably one of the most horrific experience and comes only as a last resort when one’s suffering is not tolerable anymore. But over the years, I have witnessed so many stories of resilience and strength of both refugees and – more often, poor – communities that welcome them. For me, there are very few experiences as rewarding as to give a voice to the refugees and help them fulfill their aspirations.

What is one way Canadians can help refugees?

Every Canadian can do something: from taking the time to help asylum seekers and refugees integrate in Canadian society to sending any amount of money they have to organisations supporting refugees here or far away. Canadians can also ask their elected officials to do even more for refugees globally to speak with their friends about these issues so that Canada – and the world – remain a compassionate place with open arms to those who need us.

Jessie Thomson
Senior Director, Partnerships for Global Change at CARE Canada

What does your role as CARE Canada entail?

My role involves leading CARE’s innovation agenda, building strategic partnerships and supporting the design of programs to maximize the impact of CARE’s work in support of refugees and displaced communities. I also representative CARE, as one of a small number of civil society representatives on the World Refugee Council, chaired by former Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy.

Why have you decided to focus on refugees?

When I was 20 years old, I was a private sponsor who welcomed an Afghan refugee to Canada. I remember picking Arash up from the airport when he arrived and in that moment I was changed. Arash taught me about friendship and hope, and he made me appreciate the impact of displacement on people and appreciate my rights as a Canadian.

What is one way Canadians can help refugees?

Small acts of kindness. It is always inspirational how little time it takes to help newcomers overcome the small challenges they face after they arrive in Canada. Taking the time to fill out a form or to explain how to process something in a government office might seem like a small insignificant act, but it can be transformational. It is something that you probably won’t even remember, but it is a gesture that can make the world of a difference for a newcomer. One thing I always do is take time to meet with refugees who have recently arrived in Canada. Even though it is challenging to fit in my schedule at times, I take the time and find a way to fit it into my day. If I can help open doors, extend a warm welcome, or make someone feel less alone, then I know that I am doing my part to make Ottawa a welcoming and inclusive place.