Amnesty International works on a wide range of human rights concerns around the world.  On May 11, Directors of Amnesty International from Canada, Britain, Ireland, Spain, Argentina, Chile and New Zealand met with refugee sponsor groups in Almonte to discuss the private model for the sponsoring of refugees.

Representatives from the Almonte Holy Name of Mary team, Project Arnprior Welcome and the Perth Community Alliance for Refugee Resettlement all shared their experiences in sponsoring Syrian refugees to their communities.

The international delegates came from countries with widely divergent government attitudes toward the sponsoring of refugees and were especially interested in the private community-based model that has been successfully adopted in the Lanark County area.

In Europe, one of the most pressing concerns is the issue of sponsoring unaccompanied minors from refugee camps such as the recently disbanded camp in Calais, France, nicknamed “The Jungle” for its lawlessness and lack of any kind of political oversight.  Children in this environment are particularly vulnerable to all forms of abuse.  Ireland has agreed to sponsor 200 unaccompanied minors from this notorious camp and will place these vulnerable children in foster homes in Ireland.  The delegate from Ireland noted that his country was quite open to private refugee sponsorship while governments in other nearby countries were not at all receptive to refugee sponsorship.

The presenters from the three Lanark county sponsoring groups shared  heartwarming and encouraging stories about their refugee families who have all integrated well into their communities, are working to support their families and are looking forward to a bright future in their newly adopted country.

The international delegates were encouraged to hear that private sponsorship in small rural communities is possible. Obstacles such as limited affordable housing, public transportation and employment can be overcome with a diligent, dedicated team of volunteer sponsors to support the new family for at least a year after their arrival in their new country.

The compassion, enthusiasm and commitment of the sponsoring groups were clearly evident in their presentations.  The stories of the families that they have sponsored touched everyone present.  The representative from Ireland said it all when he announced that he had just received a response to his “tweet” from a foreign colleague asking when they could start privately sponsoring refugees in their country.

Lanark County refugee sponsorship groups hope that their work with refugees can serve as a model for humanitarians around the world. Several presenters at the meeting expressed an interest in assisting other  countries with their private sponsorship efforts. We hope that the successful resettlement of refugees in our local area will encourage other countries around the world to do the same.

Sandy O’Hara