Guelph will be home for 20 new refugee families in the next few months, including some Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
Funded by the federal government and a charitable sponsorship initiative, and facilitated locally by Guelph businessman Jim Estill, the refugee families will be from several parts of the world, including Myanmar, where people from the ethnic Rohingya minority are fleeing persecution.
They will arrive between now and the end of December.
“We’re basically providing settlement services,” said Estill of the local involvement.
“It is basically getting the stuff that they need: setting up bank accounts, getting them doctors, get the bus pass, get kids registered in schools and ESL tested and registered if need be, resumé writing, interview coaching, finding the apartment and the house. That kind of stuff,” Estill said in an interview.
Estill previously sponsored 50 Syrian refugee families to resettle in the Guelph area, paying over a million dollars out of his own pocket to do so.
This time Estill’s involvement is primarily organizing in advance of their arrival and helping arrange the support network once they are here.
Estill, the CEO of Danby Products, said he will also be providing jobs for some of the refugees, as he did previously with some of the Syrian refugees.
He said there is a local network or volunteers and organizations that helped the first time around, “but now we have to go out and ask the network again.”
Volunteers and anyone willing to help would be appreciated, he said.
There is also a time crunch involved.
“I suspect those 20 families will arrive by Christmas, so it’s a much faster process.
“In the past it has taken up to 18 months to get some people in, but this is under a government quota system that they rushed to get through the numbers they needed to get through.”
That, Estill said, puts pressure on the local support group because rather than families arriving sporadically, this means 20 houses or apartments and all the other things need to be found in four months.
“It’s actually more intense than what we’ve done over the last couple of years where we did 61 families over two years,” Estill said.
The federal program the refugees are coming to Canada through is called the Blended Visa Office-Referred Program (BVOR) which sees the Canadian government, through the United Nations programs, arrange for “travel-ready” refugee families to come here.
The federal government provides up to six months of financial assistance and private donors provide another six months of financial support and a year of social and emotional support.
The Ottawa-based BVOR Fund is a philanthropic charity organization established to provide financial assistance for the government program.
“The BVOR Fund was established by the University of Ottawa Refugee Hub and Jewish Family Services, in partnership with founding donors the Shapiro Foundation, and Canadian philanthropist, Frank Giustra of the Radcliffe Foundation, who had not previously been identified,” said a press release from the BVOR Fund.
“The aim of the BVOR Fund is to encourage Blended Visa Office Referred (BVOR) sponsorships in 2018 so that none of Canada’s resettlement capacity is lost.
The BVOR program matches Canadian sponsorship groups with refugees the UNHCR identifies as needing resettlement. Settlement costs are shared between the government of Canada and sponsors, and sponsors are also responsible for all aspects of welcoming and integrating the newcomers into their communities, said the release