Life in Limbo: Refugees wait to make Canada their home

woman sits sideways with her right hand on her bowed head

In the midst of the pandemic on August 15, 2020, Ayan and her four children arrived in Alberta. The family had left behind the challenges of refugee-living in Malaysia, including food scarcity and cramped living quarters, and were excited to start their new life in Canada. The Neerlandia Christian Reformed Church sponsored the family and had made all the necessary arrangements so Ayan and her children could safely quarantine upon their arrival. Today, the family is settling happily into life in Canada.

The United Nations estimates that there are 26 million refugees globally. Many of these people are burdened by hunger and poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic has made already-difficult living conditions even more arduous. And as the pandemic rages on, refugee families wait for the opportunity that Ayan and her children were given to call Canada home.

Last year, the goal for Private Sponsorships and Government-Assisted Sponsorships was the resettlement of 32,000 refugees, but only 9,155 landed by the end of 2020. This is in part because currently, only those refugees whose Permanent Residence visas were approved prior to the implementation of COVID-19 travel restrictions on March 18, 2020 are being admitted to Canada.

This has contributed to an already-existing backlog, which is now over 50,000 sponsorship cases. Sponsors and settlement agencies across Canada are ready to receive more refugees, but COVID-19 travel restrictions have made it difficult to welcome these newcomers.

two boys and three girls stand together in front of a white fence

Malissa Huillery is a member of the River Community Christian Reformed Church refugee sponsorship committee in Edmonton, Alberta. Malissa says the church sponsored Syrian refugees, Jina and Haitham in 2015. The couple maintained a close relationship with the church and in 2018 asked if the church would consider sponsoring their cousins. The church wholeheartedly agreed and submitted a sponsorship application in September 2019. In February 2020, the family was interviewed by representatives of the Canadian government; they were excited that they were just steps away from beginning their new life in Canada. Then COVID-19 hit and travel restrictions were implemented and the family was left in limbo. Malissa says, “It was heartbreaking for both us and for the [family] – here they were, just stuck…again.”

Like the River Community Church, many sponsors are ready and willing to do everything to ensure arriving refugees adhere to all COVID-19 safety protocols. Malissa says, the River Community Church sponsorship committee is prepared to provide a place where the family can safely quarantine for an additional 11 days after the mandatory 3-day stay in a government-approved hotel. But, the committee’s hands are tied. Malissa explains,

A couple stands in a garden of pink and white flowers

“We [as sponsors] have been frustrated for the last year without answers and without a clear timeline or knowledge of when things will open up and this family can travel.” She goes on to state, “I can’t even imagine how the refugees themselves are feeling.

This is their whole life. Their kids were born in their country-of-asylum. They’re waiting for a home; if anything should be classified as essential, it should be refugee travel.”

As God’s faithful we are called to stand with those seeking justice. Right now refugee families who are waiting to rebuild their lives here in Canada need us to amplify their voice. Exemptions for essential travel already exist–refugee travel should be included. World Renew, in partnership with the Centre for Public Dialogue and Citizens for Public Justice, is inviting Canadians to advocate for their MPs and other government officials to ask that refugees be exempt from the current COVID-19 travel restrictions. Send an email, and with just one click you can stand with refugee families who are longing to rebuild their lives in Canada.

Please join us in praying that our loving Father keep our refugee brothers and sisters safe. We pray that God will provide food when they are hungry, shelter when they are cold, and protect their health. We pray that government officials will see the importance of making refugee travel essential.

Thank you for using your voice to stand with refugees.