World Refugee Day – June 20
by Lori Pederson
The United Nations’ (UN) World Refugee Day is observed on June 20 each year. This day honours the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence. There are currently about 16.7 million refugees throughout the world according to UNHCR statistics (if you include internally displaced people, there are over 51 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, half of whom are children). Many refugees spend years in overcrowded and unsafe refugee camps. Less than one per cent of all refugees get the opportunity to rebuild their lives in freedom and safety in a new homeland.
Refugees are defined as people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes and cross an international border. Besides government-assisted refugees (GARs) and those who are privately sponsored (PSRs) to come to Canada, there are asylum seekers who arrive at our border to claim protection (in 2014, of almost 866,000 new asylum seekers worldwide, approximately 13,600 asylum seekers arrived in Canada and about 650 of those in Metro Vancouver). Canada is a signatory to the 1951 UNHCR Refugee Convention and subsequent 1967 Protocol, offering protection to those vulnerable people who have arrived here after experiencing persecution, war, death threats, kidnapping, torture, the murder of loved ones, rape and other horrific emotional and psychological trauma.
Usually arriving with almost no possessions, refugees struggle with mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, compounded by the loss of previous support networks and family connections. Combined with possible language barriers and cultural differences, this can result in isolation and loneliness.
Journey Home Community is a Christian not-for-profit organization started 10 years ago in Burnaby by a handful of volunteers at Willingdon Church. Its mandate is to serve refugee claimants, especially families with children, by providing resettlement assistance, housing and relational support. Other partnering churches are now involved, and Journey Home is looking for additional churches and individuals to help. Interpreters are always needed. The top six source countries of asylum-seekers in Western Canada in the first part of 2014 were Colombia, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Honduras.
Journey Home Community Executive Director James Grunau, says their housing strategy (across Vancouver and the Lower Mainland) involves three levels of accommodation. The first level is emergency housing, comprised of two welcome houses in New Westminster, in partnership with Olivet Baptist Church, for refugees’ initial housing on arrival, providing for a three to five-month stay. From there, refugee families may go in one of two directions: For the most vulnerable families, there is a limited refugee transition program for up to 24 months (up to 12 housing units are available), or Journey Home will assist other refugees to locate affordable market rate housing.
“Journey Home is more than just an organization that extends services – we take a community approach to how we are involved with refugees,” explains Grunau. “There is an emphasis on building relationships and friendships with refugees – we give and receive in a reciprocal way with each other.”
Although specific refugee information cannot be given due to privacy and safety issues, one man from the Middle East said he was impressed with the way he saw the Christian church helping others. Another man said Journey Home had helped him and his family so they “could adapt better into Canada.”
Journey Home has had an ongoing partnership with World Vision since 2007 and the current project is to provide assistance to help prepare refugees for the Canadian job market by overcoming barriers to employment. Most refugees want to work and support themselves and their families, but it can take months to get a work permit.
In addition to his work with Journey Home, Grunau visited Lebanon in January 2015 to visit and offer words of encouragement to Syrian refugees there. He says: “The situation with Syria is one of the greatest humanitarian and global refugee crises of our day. To date, almost half the population has been displaced and approximately four million refugees have left Syria, most of whom have transitioned to surrounding countries.” Grunau said there is good news coming out of all this with “an unprecedented movement of God currently happening in the Middle East. People have been turning to Jesus in numbers that have not been seen before.”
Grunau is also the Canadian facilitator for the Refugee Highway Partnership established in 2001. RHP is a global grassroots network of Christian organizations, churches, and individuals connecting and equipping refugee ministry leaders. Their website provides resources for churches that wish to celebrate World Refugee Sunday (held annually in cooperation with the World Evangelical Alliance) on either the Sunday before or after June 20 (as well as other vital information).
Grunau enthusiastically shares: “One of the most fascinating aspects of my work is watching what God does over and over again – we have seen His provisions in countless ways that include an interpreter showing up at just the right time, an affordable housing unit being made available when needed, and a volunteer with just the right skill coming forward.”
For further information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 604-568-4892