MCC sponsor groups step up to help Syrian refugees

Private sponsorship groups through the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Saskatchewan are responding admirably to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Groups are coming forward to meet the increased demand for refugee placement. The MCC has been facilitating refugee sponsors since 1979, so this is nothing new for the relief organization.
“We have a long history of being involved in refugee sponsorship,” said Leona Lortie, communications associate with MCC in Saskatoon. “We used to do a good number of them annually but in the last couple of years it had really dropped off.”
These days they typically do about four to five sponsorships a year with different church or community groups. But with the Syrian refugee crisis, that number has really jumped up.
“So far, just since September, we’ve had over 20 groups come forward,” said Lortie. The actual number is somewhere between 20 and 25, depending on where the group is at in the actual process of being committed to sponsorship.
“It’s quite the increase and the community has responded really well and is very compassionate and wants to be involved. It’s really encouraging for us to see how Saskatoon and Saskatchewan have stepped up, and we’re just one of the organizations,” said Lortie.
Sponsorship involves a year-long commitment which begins by meeting the family at the airport. It extends to many practical elements of adjusting to life in Canada, from getting groceries, finding housing and home furnishings, access to language training, help with finances, navigating the health care system and working through children sometimes, to help parents get used to Canadian society.
With MCC, sponsorship consists of a church or community group of five individuals who commit to raise or pull together the funds. Each group also offers their refugee family friendship and emotional support. “While the legal sponsorship lasts a year, the relationships that are formed are often transforming and everlasting,” said Lortie. Throughout the stages of the sponsorship process, MCC provides the sponsors with training opportunities and support.
The number of refugees MCC is able to receive is limited only by the number of people that want to sponsor, according to Lortie. The Canadian government promised 10,000 refugees would be here by the end of 2015.
“Our numbers are included in those figures from the government. A lot of those numbers were actually private sponsorships. So then, it was just a matter of the groups and the sponsorships that are already set up, of finalizing them. We had already done a lot of the work and we just continue to do the work,” said Lortie.
Possibly the largest resettlement project undertaken by MCC to date was when 70,000 refugees from Southeast Asia were resettled here.
But MCC’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis is their largest-ever humanitarian effort. In Syria, Iraq and surrounding countries, MCC has 27 ongoing projects that deliver emergency relief.
Resettling refugees here helps ease the pressure of aid in these conflict-ridden areas. “We’re just really grateful for all the people that have committed to sponsor a family,” said Lortie.
MCC groups have not yet welcomed Syrian families, but they anticipate that this will happen soon.