The world is facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. The stories, images and sheer number of the displaced are staggering: more than 60 million, the largest human displacement level on record. We must respond with urgency and commitment to help our fellow human beings facing tragedy. And we know that we can. Welcoming our neighbours in a world where borders should not isolate us from concern for the dignity of every person, and working together with others, we can give opportunities for a new life to families fleeing war, famine and persecution…and build a more humane world in the process.
Unitarians and Universalists have a history of helping refugees. Starting at least as early as the Enlightenment (eg. expulsion of the Socinian Brethren from Poland, 1658) this history was born in a Europe where professing the wrong beliefs often resulted in persecution or death. In North America, the tradition continued with Unitarians and Universalists helping former slaves escape the Southern U.S. to freedom in Canada and New England via the Underground Railroad.
Putting into practice principles such as the inherent worth and dignity of every person and belief in the right of conscience, many UUs have risked their lives to help with humanitarian causes such as aiding refugees. Some notable examples from more recent times include the Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp (see Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War) Unitarians who helped save hundreds of imperilled political dissidents and Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi occupation across Europe in World War II. Also, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova, whose humanitarian and refugee work took her to post-war Europe, Africa and Asia – conflict zones where the need was greatest. One of Canada’s most recognized humanitarians and founder of the USC Canada, Hitschmanova mobilized a generation of Canadians to help others in need, shaping the caring society that Canada has become today.
In modern times, the Universalist Unitarian Church of Halifax (UUCH) has been involved in sponsoring refugee families during successive refugee waves, such as the Vietnamese Boat People in the early 1980s, Kosovars in the late 1990s, Afghans in the 2000s.
The crisis in the Middle East has resulted in refugee numbers not seen since World War II. Millions of Syrian families, in particular, have been forced to flee their homes. At the same time, the need in other parts of the world has not abated. UUCH has been active in sponsoring and settling, or helping settle, a number of families recently.
Your donation to refugee efforts will help save a refugee family and bring them to safety in Canada. Settlement costs for an average couple is $23,000, or up to $30,000 for a family of five. Donations are fully tax-receiptable (Registered Charity # 108160813RR0001):
For inquiries about donations, contact the office (uuchurch-at-eastlink.ca or 902-429-5500). Cheques can be mailed to the address at bottom if “Refugee Sponsorship” is written the notes line. Interac eTransfers (email electronic transfer) can be accepted at uuchurch-at-eastlink.ca. Charitable donation tax receipts will be automatically issued at year-end (January) for donations above $20 that include a return mailing address in the email, cheque or envelope. Donations can also be accepted online via CanadaHelps.
In 2018 the Universalist Unitarian Church of Halifax became a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH): an organization authorized by the federal government to select and settle refugees in Canada (read the announcement). UUCH usually focuses on refugee settlements in Nova Scotia, though we occasionally partner with other organizations, such as the Canadian Unitarian Council, other Unitarian groups, or Rainbow Refugee groups to assist in the settlement of refugees farther afield. However, we are severely restricted in both the number of refugees we can apply for each year, and the volunteers needed to settle newcomers. We need your help: if you are interested in making a positive difference in the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people, please contact us at 902-429-5500.
UUCH works primarily with local groups in Atlantic Canada who are prepared to fundraise to sponsor and settle refugees and are in need of a Sponsorship Agreement Holder. Note that there are always more applicant groups than can be accommodated, but please contact us early in the year if your group is ready for sponsorship and wishes to inquire (see below).
Primer on Private Sponsorship from rstp
Local Constituent Groups are responsible for the first year’s living expenses – the “settlement year” – for the refugee family. Per family size, costs are approximately (depending on circumstances):
Settlement Year Costs (approximate)
$13,500 – for one refugee;
$22,400 – for a couple or two people who will cohabit;
$24,300 – for a family of three;
$28,200 – for a family of four people,
+ approximately $2,000 more for every additional dependent family member.
This amount does not have to be raised all in cash; it can include in-kind donations, including furniture, accommodations provided, etc.
An Agreement is typically signed between UUCH and your group when sponsoring. There are three financial options for your sponsorship:
(a) donations are made to UUCH directly for general refugee work, UUCH administers the funds and issues charitable tax receipts – but funds cannot be returned if the refugees do not arrive for whatever reason;
(b) donations are made to UUCH directly for the sponsorship of your selected refugees, UUCH administers the funds, and donations can be returned if the refugees do not arrive; or
(c) your group keeps the funds raised in a Trust Account set up in the refugee’s name(s), no charitable tax receipts can be issued but your group administers the funds and donations are returned to donors if the refugees do not arrive.
If your group:
(a) has raised the funds required for sponsorship of the intended refugees;
(b) has at least 6 adult Canadians or permanent residents (the majority living in the community where the refugees will be living) each willing and able to help with settlement tasks for the year – such as finding accommodation, school and language instruction enrolment, accessing medical care, orientation to shopping, services, and the community, etc (note: despite the requirement for 5 people, this is not a Group of 5 sponsorship – it is an SAH sponsorship);
(c) can get the information needed to fill out the IRCC Application for an Outside Canada SAH Refugee Sponsorship as part of a Constituent Group; and
(d) has a settlement plan (download a sample PDF settlement plan here) and is willing to enter into an agreement with UUCH covering the settlement year.
…then please contact us at 902-429-5500 or uurefugees-at-gmail.com. Note that this email is intended for local in-Canada groups only. An administrative fee of up to $250 may be charged for each undertaking.
For more useful information, visit the Canadian Unitarian Council’s page on refugee sponsorship.