How Canadians can help Syrian refugees

How Canadians can help Syrian refugees

From sponsoring to donating, there’s plenty you can do


—Jan 8., 2016 update: The Canadian government has announced it is extending its pledge to match donations up to $100-million for the Syrian Emergency Fund to Feb. 29, 2016— 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pledge to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada on speedy deadline has been on everyone’s mind since his election in October.

So far, 464 refugees have already arrived in Canada, while 65 communities across the country are preparing to provide a new home for the newcomers, according to the Canadian government.

With the target of bringing 10,000 refugees into the country by the end of 2015 (the remainder of the quota is set to be met in February of 2016), many Canadians are stepping up to the plate to help sponsor Syrian newcomers.

In an admirable display, a Toronto couple even cancelled plans for their expensive wedding in order to gather the funds to put towards sponsoring a Syrian refugee family of four.

While that’s one way of doing it, there are plenty of other methods of charitable giving in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, both for newcomers making their way to Canada and for those being processed in foreign countries.

Here are some of the ways you can help.

Sponsor Syrian refugees

Sponsoring a Syrian family can seem like an intimidating process. It’s definitely not easy, but many Canadians are banding together and doing so in light of the refugee crisis.

Privately sponsoring refugees is a lot of responsibility. A Group of Five (G5) is classified as five or more Canadians aged 18 and up who have together decided to combine efforts and apply to sponsor and provide for Syrian refugees for 12 months. The application for G5 sponsorship groups requires them to provide a resettlement plan and prove that they will have the funds to take care of the newcomer(s). This includes budgeting for food, shelter, transportation and medical costs. The group must also be located in the vicinity of the resettlement area.

Well how much do you have to raise?  The government is placing estimates for the year-long costs of resettlement to be around $25,000 for a family of four. The cost to apply to become a sponsorship group is free. The forms can be found here.

Another option is to get into touch with a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH), which is usually a religious or community service organization that is already eligible in the eyes of the Canadian government to sponsor or support refugees. Coordinating with an SAH is a faster way to begin sponsoring refugees, as these organizations have usually already been involved in the sponsoring process before and can provide the resources and guidance to get started. Or they may already be sponsoring a family, in which case you’d be able to reach out to see if there is anything you can donate or do to help out. Find the SAHs in your province here to get started on your journey to becoming a private sponsor.

Lifeline Syria is a private sponsorship group that recruits and trains G5s and community organizations to organize and collect money to sponsor refugees in the Greater Toronto Area. They peg the amount needed for a family of four for a year to be around $27,000.

Donate to a sponsorship fund

If personally taking on the responsibility of becoming a private sponsor isn’t something you can commit to right now but you’d still like to help, don’t worry. There are plenty of other groups already raising funds to sponsor Syrian refugees that you can donate to.

You can donate online, send a cheque, cash or donate publicly traded securities to Lifeline Syria here through the Toronto Community Foundation to receive a charitable tax receipt (for donations of $25 or more).

You can also donate Aeroplan Miles, which Lifeline Syria spokesperson Peter Goodspeed says also come in handy to use to help refugees stay in a hotel for a day or two during any transition periods of their resettlement, or purchase other goods.

Save a Family from Syria is another privately sponsorship group that paired with an existing SAH rather than creating their own group of five. The organization’s priority is sponsoring Syrian refugees that already have family living in Canada and you can donate through their Canada Helps page to relocation efforts in Kingston and Toronto. It’s important to note that Canada Helps takes 3.5% of each donation, so Save a Family from Syria’s Annette Wilde suggests that while it’s easiest for them to process payments below $500 through Canada Helps, if you plan on being extra-generous and donating more, it’s better to do so via cheque so that the charity receives all of the money.

Donate to the Syrian Emergency Relief Fund

While sponsoring refugees who hope to come to Canada is immensely important, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on the ground to support this relocation and to provide humanitarian aid in affected countries.

With that in mind, until Dec. 31, the Canadian government is matching funds donated to registered charities especially for the refugee crisis as part of the Syrian Emergency Fund. (See update above).

“If you give $100 to the Red Cross the government is matching it for $100,” says Wilde, “If you’re looking to help refugees, they need so much help still in the Middle-East, where they are before they come, that I think you’re getting double the bang for your buck.”

But remember, there is no way to donate directly to the fund. You must donate to a registered charity and make it clear that it’s for the Syrian refugee crisis. The charity will then report the funds that were donated to the government, which will then match the funds to up to $100 million.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is coordinating refugee humanitarian efforts across the world. Charity Intelligence reports that the UNHCR’s annual cost per refugee is around $336. But with lack of funding, they’ve had to cut down on the number of family kits they’ve been able to hand out in Syria from 20,000 a week to just 8,000. While the UNHCR is not a registered Canadian charity, because it’s a UN agency, your donations are still tax receipted.

Other charities doing work in Syria include:

World Vision Canada

Canadian Red Cross

Islamic Relief Canada

To see other charities in Canada and how they rank, see our 2016 Charity 100 grades.

Volunteer your time and services

Resettlement is a arduous and time-consuming process for both the newcomers and those organizing the transition. Check in your area if there are any resettlement groups who are sponsoring Syrian refugees and see if there’s any way you can volunteer your time or skills. Retirees, for instance, can offer to drive refugees to appointments, or if you are a medical or legal professional that wants to offer your services pro-bono, that’s also extremely helpful.

“We had two families arrive in Kingston, [Ont.], and all of them had suffered from not being able to take care of their teeth as refugees…one little girl, she was five, she had to have all her baby teeth removed under general anesthetic because they were all infected,” says Wilde, “We were very lucky to find a volunteer dentist do that work pro-bono.”

Donate your clothing/items

While it’s true that refugees will mostly be starting anew, donating your used clothing and other items to sponsorship groups may not be entirely helpful. Many groups don’t necessarily have the resources to process large amounts of clothes that may or may not fit or suit the refugees they are welcoming to the country. “It’s better to have…$25 to buy a proper pair of shoes that are new and that fit versus 25 pairs of shoes that have been worn and we don’t know if they fit and we have to find storage for,” says Wilde.

If you really want to help, see if there are any groups that are calling out for clothes specifically or just give your used clothing to the Salvation Army in the vicinity of soon-to-be settled refugees. This way, the sponsors can take the newcomers shopping so that they can choose clothing that they like and fits correctly.  Likewise, you can donate to furniture banks so refugees can choose how to outfit their new homes.