LGBT

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Circling back on the RRAP: enhancement for safe LGBT+ migration through a Call to Action

In the spring of this year, FOH was invited to testify alongside multiple civil society groups across Canada at the hearings of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in Ottawa. These groups included Rainbow Refugee and Capital Rainbow Refuge, organizations FOH actively supports, which spoke on the importance of the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program (RRAP) in fulfilling their goals for safe migration.

The RRAP was established in 2011 to support private sponsorship of LGBT+ Refugees and Asylum Seekers persecuted on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE). The program has been renewed annually up to and including 2017. It is administered nationally by Rainbow Refugee Society, but its fate has remained uncertain.

Following the hearings, the Standing Committee voted unanimously in favour to maintain the program. Such acceptance led to an important next step by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to host a consultation event in Toronto with the civil society groups doing this important work on the ground. These groups hold the wealth of knowledge about the state of SOGIE persecution across the world and the Government of Canada now recognizes this.

Willingness by the parliamentary standing committee to undertake deeper consultation through a “Call to Action” to enhance the RRAP has resulted along with 15 recommendations for the Government of Canada.

In anticipation of the Committee consultation proceedings, Foundation of Hope has worked with Rainbow Railroad as the Toronto-based organization taking a leading role. Four broad priorities have been tabled for the Government of Canada to consider as a form of enhancement:

  1. Establish the RRAP as a regular program with multi-year funding commitments;
  2. Create a multi-year program to increase resettlement by LGBT+ Refugees, through government assisted refugees (GARs) and joint assistance (JAS) streams specifically;
  3. IRCC and Global Affairs Canada (GAC) collaborate directly with civil society groups to recognize and act on situations of critical need for rapid action (e.g., through the Urgent Protection Program, temporary visas, or other measures); and
  4. Enhance SOGIE Refugee settlement support to be inclusive of all types including GARs, JASs, and inland Refugee claimants.

In partnership with TD Bank and Aeroplan, FOH teamed up with Rainbow Railroad to facilitate travel and accommodations for the groups across Canada to gather in Toronto and prepare, then meet with the Government of Canada on October 26th and 27th, respectively. Kimahli Powell, Rainbow Railroad’s Executive Director sees it as a national movement to support the arrival and settlement of LGBTQI+ people in Canada and FOH is in total agreement.

“The Foundation of Hope is a crucial partner to the community groups across the country, and we’re thankful in their support in convening a national coalition of organizations working together towards this common goal.”

Capital Rainbow Refuge (CRR) Coordinator Lisa Hébert attended on behalf of numerous members and CRR mentor groups for Refugee sponsorships happening out of Ottawa.

“We are very grateful to TD Aeroplan for their generous donation of travel miles. The donation allowed us to facilitate a rare opportunity to bring together civil society groups from across the country. We were pleased to coordinate our efforts and to be able to share best practices. Our group presented a workshop on our Foundational Principles of Empowerment and Confidentiality.”

Vancouver’s Rainbow Refugee also headed to Toronto to help steer the engagement. Sharalyn Jordan offered a huge thank you to Foundation of Hope support for travel and accommodations during the affair.

“Support from the Foundation of Hope and generous hosting by Rainbow Railroad and the 519 Centre in Toronto made it possible to bring groups from across Canada who work directly with LGBTQI+ refugees together for two full days. We share a vision and commitment to greater safety and belonging for LGBTQI+ refugee newcomers in Canada. At the meetings we developed strategies and strengthened our collective voice.”

All three major parties support Canada taking a more substantial role in the global LGBT+ Refugee protection system. The 519 hosted multiple government agencies including IRCC, GAC and Honourable Randy Boissonault, LGBT2QI+ PM Secretariat. All gathered together to consult as a group working directly with LGBTQI+ Refugees.

“Civil Society organizations know what is needed and we were able to bring our agenda forward with a stronger voice because of conversations with IRCC and GAC.”

– Sharalyn Jordan of Rainbow Refugee
Soon groups will meet with IRCC and everyone is hopeful that the government will commit to a renewed RRAP. Key recommendations also include increased government sponsorship to expand emergency pathways as well as bolstering support for agencies that deal with LGBT+ Newcomers and inland Refugee claimants.

 

Photo courtesy benowensphotography.com
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STRUT 2017: year 3 and counting…

Foundation of Hope reached out again this year to ask for community support for the 3rd annual STRUT walk-a-thon. Our goal was to exceed $40,000 for the flagship fundraiser, which we’ve managed to do every year since FOH’s inception. 

Because of STRUT and your generosity, we have granted over $90,000 to Canadian charities working directly with LGBT+ Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Newcomers to Canada.

Funds have brought Asylum Seekers out of immediate harm in places like Uganda, Jamaica, and Pakistan; sponsorship applications have been approved for Refugees from Syria and Iraq living in Turkey and Lebanon, and several more sponsorship applications are pending hearings in Canadian visa offices across the Middle East. 

Last summer, Canada’s Prime Minister marched in the Toronto Pride Parade alongside a Newcomer who arrived through Lifeline Syria, a project we supported through a partner organization in Canada’s largest city.

Canadian charities have benefited from FOH funding dedicated to LGBT+ Newcomer support for PTSD counselling, safe housing needs, legal assistance for transgender personal identification needs, group counselling sessions, and queer youth peer support across Canada, among other community services. 

For the third year in a row, we walked in solidarity. We withstood pain and suffering together with love in our hearts and hope in our hands. 

Walking high in our heels, we blew our fundraising goal out of the water and surpassed $54,000 with donations still coming in.

This is all because of people like you. 

Asking for money can be awkward and difficult. As Director of Grants for FOH, I prefer to devote my time and energy towards giving. Still, I remain a standing monthly donor and a dedicated fundraiser for STRUT. 

Please trust in knowing that your contributions directly influence the lives of those less privileged. We are all volunteers; no one gets paid for our work. It is your generosity that enables us to give. 

For those of you have contributed to STRUT, whether as a donor, strutter, volunteer, or any combination thereof, we thank you. 

Please consider taking a more active role in our organization. Whether you have the time, talents, or ‘treasure’, whatever to can afford will go a long way to this cause. Community engagement is critical to getting and giving out funds. 

Here are a few examples of what you can do:

  • Become a standing monthly donor – easiest way to contribute, especially if time is limited
  • Be a volunteer – learn about the work and commit ideas and skills to committees and events 
  • Represent on the Grants Committee – assist to evaluate applications as a show of accountability to our donors
  • Join the Board of Directors – bring leadership and commit to an incredibly rewarding experience.

STRUT 2017 has raised the bar for donor participation and amount of funds raised. This is a milestone for the Foundation and all signs indicate momentum for growth and expansion, across Canada and across the world.

For us, it means the world is benefiting from your involvement. And that involvement truly means the world to us.

Be a part of this movement. Send us a note at engagement@foundationofhope.net.

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Welcoming diversity: at the heart of what we do

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It is unfortunate that the Foundation of Hope exists. In fact, I actually wish we didn’t. I wish that people did not need refugee-supporting organizations and I look forward to the day – if ever possible –  when we are able to disband and go our separate ways.  However, the sad truth is that we do have to exist, and we must continue working to support other charities and sponsors in their quest to give LGBT+ Refugees a better life.  Our world is seeing an unprecedented number of refugees and our LGBT+ family across the globe are still struggling for a breath of fresh air.

Today, my friends, it is ever important to ensure that we press on to make our Vision a reality: a world where LGBT+ refugees and newcomers can live safely and be themselves.

 

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I am sitting in an airplane right now, rather exhausted and irritable, waiting impatiently for the attendants to wheel their caffeine cart to my row so I can fuel up.  You see, it’s late, but I have to write.  I have to somehow find a way to transform my reflections and experiences into something tangible.  I spent three days last week at the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) Fall Consultation in Montréal on the traditional territory of the Mohawk peoples. I am feeling incredibly impacted and inspired by the consultation.  I feel hopeful, and somehow conversely, I also feel hopeless.

To contextualize this consultation, “the CCR is a non-profit umbrella of more than 180 organizations across Canada committed to the rights and protections of refugees and other vulnerable migrants and to the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada” (CCR Handout, 2016).  The CCR hosts recurring consultations, to which they invite their member organizations and other interested stakeholders, including Newcomers themselves. These consultations facilitate a coast-to-coast information exchange.  This consultation in particular was titled Welcoming Diversity: At the Heart of What We Do. It comprised 450 registrants who were engaged from across Canada and FOH fit right in; we were graciously welcomed. The consultative agenda consisted of various working groups, caucuses, presentations, and workshops. I only wish I was able to attend all sessions.  What a wealth of dialogue, discussion, and most importantly, action planning!

In order for you to get a sense of my experience, I will list the sessions in which FOH was present:

  • Overseas Protection and Sponsorship Working Group Meeting
  • Opening Plenary with keynote speaker Johannes can der Klaauw, Canada’s  UNHCR representative
  • Promoting Refugee Protection Internationally
  • Sharing Best Partnership Practices in Building Welcoming Communities
  • LGBT Refugees
  • Current Issues in Immigration Detention

As you can imagine, after these sessions I am feeling full of shared knowledge and new information.  It is truly amazing to see so many diverse people dedicated to the improvement of lives around the world, lives of unknown people, often with untold stories. In light of the election south of the border, its current sociopolitical landscape of xenophobia and racism, it felt refreshing to see so much drive for our world’s betterment.  Canada has an incredible opportunity to lead by example and continue to fortify its humanitarian characteristics of vigilance and perseverance, held deeply within our national culture. If one thing was particularly thematic over these past few days, it is that Canada is doing something right.  As was stated yesterday, “We need more Canada in the world.

However, to humbly deflate my nationalist ego for a moment, we certainly have a lot of work to do.  Our immigration system is not perfect and progress is often slow.  I can say in confidence, though, that actions are being undertaken, voices are being heard, and flaws are being addressed.

What excited me at the consultation was the moments in between sessions, the social mingling and networking that occurred among people from the various member and guest organizations. It is particularly exciting that there was so much interest in the Foundation of Hope… I suppose this is not a surprise, since our main goal is to distribute grants! There are many people coming into contact with sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), or LGBT+ Refugees and other Newcomers, and it seems to me like this consultation and connection to CCR will deepen our roots within this work.  I predict that some grant applications will be headed our way.

Throughout the sessions I was scribbling notes in my trusty notebook, and I want to share these with you.  I captured what caught my attention and what moved me in order to report back to my team and supporters, to evoke further discussion and quiet contemplation. Here are some points to consider:

  • Article 14 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights guarantees the right to asylum – it is not a matter of charity.
  • Newcomers are people first and seeking refuge is one of a diverse set of components of “oneself”.
  • A need for policy coherence: e.g., does it make sense for Canada to resolve the Refugee crisis and continue to sell weapons internationally?
  • Engagement and commitment of civil society is essential; rhetoric without action is fruitless.
  • The Canadian response to an international call to support and welcome Refugees will go down in history.
  • The current “refugee crisis” is not a crisis of numbers, it is a crisis of global solidarity.
  • Global support is not administered equally;  developing countries host the most Refugees (i.e., Lebanon, Iran, and Turkey).
  • Of the 65+ million people displaced, 40 million are displaced within their own country and 20+ million are Refugees.
  • Most of the world’s Refugees come from 3 countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
  • Canada’s model for private sponsorship will be disseminated and implemented across the world.
  • The CCR is about people coming together; people helping people.
  • A need to address “Month 13” after a sponsored Refugee transitions out of the first year of legal sponsored support.
  • Refugees today spend an average of 20 years in exile.
  • There are 32 prolonged Refugee situations globally, 11 of which have been occurring for over 30 years.
  • A Trump Administration may threaten funding to UNHCR and Canada must preserve and bolster its asylum system.
  • Resettlement is only one solution. Remedial effort by the whole world is essential to target root causes of asylum. 
  • Canada is well-positioned to shape the asylum narrative going forward.
  • The Refugee and migrant voice is imperative: nothing about us without us!
  • A bridge must be constructed between Newcomers and Canada’s First Nations.
  • The IRBC is creating partnerships with “trauma-informed approaches” to assist SOGI Refugees.
  • A Newcomer detention system is unacceptable, but improvements include a trend toward in-community detentions.

Well, my friends, the coffee cart has come and gone. It is time to tuck my laptop back into its case and ride out the rest of this flight.  Before I go, I must make an important acknowledgment.  The Foundation of Hope would not have been able to attend this consultation if it were not for the TD Aeroplan Pride campaign’s generous donation of 3 million Aeroplan miles.

This is an incredible contribution to our Purpose and I speak for the entire FOH Board of Directors when I say we are very grateful.  Thank you.

Chad Walters, Board Director

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Round 3: Foundation of Hope teams up with our community

While others were out parading and masquerading, colors spread amid ghoulish and fantastic costumes of Halloween, Team FOH gathered at QMUNITY in the heart of Davie Village with sleeves rolled up.

New faces from the LGBT+ community joined the table, including a former refugee that found his way to FOH after receiving emergency travel services from Toronto’s Rainbow Railroad, an important partner of FOH. Grants Committee members and community reps evaluated the latest round of grant applications.

Round 3 focused mainly on Sponsorship funding for individuals in dire situations. A more salient example involved a trans couple that narrowly escaped acute death threats from their own families in a predominantly Muslim nation where LGBT+ are frequently killed. If convicted under Sharia law, punishment can include whipping with 100 lashes or even death by stoning.

Outed individuals can be killed in before criminal prosecution begins and violent mobs have beaten suspected homosexuals to death. Rainbow Railroad helped the couple escape with the utmost urgency to another country on same continent where they are considered safe from death threats and violence, but face ongoing hardships.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) no longer acknowledges their struggle as legitimate refugees. Still, the couple must hide from public exposure and faces discrimination from local people fearing they will take their jobs. Non-violent forms of discrimination are not considered to be persecution, but UNHCR still deems the couple to be a case for private sponsorship and will assist with an application.

This case was brought to FOH through Capital Rainbow Refuge (CRR) in Ottawa, with endorsement by Rainbow Railroad. It is further complicated by the fact that the couple has a young child that remains in the country of origin and cannot be released by law. It all poses to be an immense challenge CRR hopes to resolve, ultimately by reuniting the child with its parents.

Once resettled to Canada, the couple intends to make use of the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program (RRAP). Initiated in 2011, the Government of Canada appealed to efforts from Rainbow Refugee Committee (RRC) by creating a $100,000 federal pilot program dedicated to rsettlement of LBGT+ refugee. It generally amounts to about $3000 per individual refugee. Success of the pilot program led to the reinstatement of RRAP for an additional two years as of March 2015. Through the program, RRC continues to enable private sponsorship of LGBT+ refugees across Canada.

In reviewing these applications, it can be difficult to read the stories of inhuman struggle that is so hard to imagine. The few that do survive such trauma still face barriers once they arrive in safe countries, often surrounded by a foreign culture where they cannot speak the language and still face discrimination.

That’s why FOH supports the work of MOSAIC BC and its I Belong Project, which received grant funding in 2015 through the Community Services stream. Funds are dedicated specifically to clinical counselling services for LGBT+ newcomers that have endured traumatic forms of persecution leading to PTSD. In consideration of renewed funding, FOH Board Directors will meet with MOSAIC at the end of the month to learn more about the success of I Belong and its role in fulfilling our Purpose.

Foundation of Hope encourages ongoing support from anyone and everyone that would like to help realize our Vision:

A world where LGBT+ refugees and newcomers can live safely and be themselves.

Please consider sending us a donation or become a standing monthly donor today.

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