Rainbow Railroad

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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.

 

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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.

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