C!C!C! Sings for Syria FAQ

1. Who is a refugee?

In today’s news climate, we are constantly hearing the word “refugee” being thrown about but it is important to understand the legal definition of the word. Under international law, a refugee is a person who is fleeing persecution in their home country and cannot find protection within their own state. A refugee is different from an economic migrant who may move countries to find better financial opportunities. A refugee is forced to leave their home country due to risk of death or cruel or unusual punishment such as torture.

2. Where are the Syrian refugees coming from?

To be considered a refugee under international law, you must be outside your home country. The Syrian refugees being resettled to Canada will be coming from refugee camps in countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon that have hosted millions of Syrian refugees since the beginning of the conflict in 2011.

3. What is life like in a refugee camp?

The quality varies but the general state of the camps is appalling. The camps are extremely overcrowded and often lack basic amenities such as electricity and running water. In the winter, there is not enough heat and living conditions become even more miserable. Single, unaccompanied and widowed women are especially vulnerable in these dire living conditions. Still, life goes on and refugees have tried to make the best of a horrifying situation. Some camps have little stores selling clothing and household equipment. There are also often basic health care and educational services for children.

4. What is happening in Syria?

There is no easy way to describe one of the most protracted and bloody conflicts of our time. What started off as peaceful protests against the government in 2011 quickly progressed to a violent insurgency that has drawn in numerous international actors. By some estimates, there are 13 major rebel groups currently operating in Syria. However, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency puts the number of total groups, including the smaller, fringe groups at around 1,200.  Additionally, the U.S, Russia, Turkey and Iran have all become involved to various degrees, as have countries whose citizens have travelled to Syria to join ISIS and other armed groups. Millions of Syrians have been displaced by the conflict and over 250,000 have lost their lives in the fighting between rebel groups and government forces as well as the jihadi militancy of ISIS. A report published by the UN in March 2015 estimated the total economic loss since the start of the conflict was $202 billion and that four in every five Syrians were now living in poverty, 30% in abject poverty. Syria’s education, health and social welfare systems are also in a state of collapse.

5. Are refugees a security threat to Canada?

In the wake of the Paris and Beirut bombings, a lot of people are concerned that letting in refugees might jeopardize the security of the country. However, it is important to remember that refugees are people who are fleeing the groups that perpetrated the attacks on Paris and Beirut. Refugees are looking for security from violence; they are not committing violence.

Most importantly, refugees who come to Canada are subjected to extensive security and background screening. The Canadian government has a sophisticated and robust system for security checks that are conducted by Canada Border Services Agency and CSIS. These Canadian agencies review personal information of the refugee applicants and carefully scrutinize them for certain factors that may indicate a possible threat. If an applicant appears to pose a risk, he or she is subjected to more thorough screening, including an interview with CSIS, if required.

6. What does it mean to sponsor a refugee?

One can be a refugee in Canada in two different ways: the first way involves making a claim for refugee protection from within Canada, and the other involves people seeking protection from outside Canada. Refugees overseas can seek protection by applying to be sponsored to come to Canada.

There are two ways that a refugee can be sponsored to come to Canada:

1) Government Sponsored Refugees: The Government of Canada has pledged to resettle thousands of Syrian refugees in Canada, once they have passed the intensive screening procedures put in place by the government. These refugees have been pre-vetted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and will be fully supported by the government.

2) Privately sponsored refugees: Individuals or groups may also sponsor refugees from overseas. Private sponsors, such as our team, are involved at every step of the process, including filling out initial paperwork, devising settlement plans, budgeting, connecting with the family before their arrival, receiving them at the airport and providing for them for their first year in Canada.

7. How is private sponsorship different than the government resettlement of refugees?

The main difference between government sponsored refugees and privately sponsored refugees boils down to financial responsibility. Government-sponsored refugees are financially supported by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Privately sponsored refugees are supported by individuals or groups who have undertaken to provide families with financial support including rent, travel, food, and other basic living expenses for the first twelve months after the refugees’ arrival in Canada. Private sponsors are also expected to provide emotional support, to help refugees navigate settlement services and to help them integrate into Canadian society.

8. What will my money go towards if I decide to donate to the choir sponsorship of a refugee family?

100% of the money raised will go to the family. Our group will provide them with the financial support they’ll need for their first year in Canada to pay for living expenses like rent, utilities, food and transit. Since most of the refugees coming to Canada will be building a new life from scratch, your donations will also help our family set up their home with necessities like clothing, furniture, kitchen basics and other household goods.

9. Will I get a charitable tax receipt?

All donations made through Ryerson’s Lifeline Syria fundraising page are eligible for a charitable tax receipt. To donate, please visit: choirchoirchoir.com/syria

However, we are not able to offer tax receipts for cash donations made in other contexts (choir events, bake sales), or for in-kind donations.

10. What is the timeline for the family arriving in Canada? How can I be updated on their progress?

We will be matched with a family once we’ve reached 75% of our fundraising goal, and at that point we’ll have a much better idea of when they’ll be arriving. While we’re very excited to share updates about their arrival timeline, we also need to respect the family’s privacy as they begin building a new life, and so public updates on their settlement progress will be limited. If you are another sponsoring group with logistical questions about settlement, you can get in touch with us at choirchoirchoir.syria@gmail.com

11. How can I donate food/furniture/household items, etc?

Setting up a household is a big job, and we will absolutely be looking for help with furniture, household items, and clothing once we know the make up of the family (ages and sizes). Please check back here in early January for a list of items we are trying to source. While we’ll be doing some shopping before they arrive, we’d like to give the family as much autonomy as possible in choosing food, clothing, etc., so gift certificates (for stores like No Frills, Old Navy, HomeSense or Home Depot) are especially appreciated!

12. Are sponsored refugees entitled to social assistance?

Privately sponsored refugees are not permitted to apply for government assistance (including provincial assistance) during the period of their sponsorship, that is, for one year after arrival in Canada. They must be financially supported by their sponsors, who have willingly undertaken to assist the refugees.

Government assisted refugees have access to financial assistance from the federal government through the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP). This financial assistance is generally for one year only and is received only if they do not have their own financial resources or income. The exact rate depends on the size of the family and is tied to social assistance rates.

13. Where do the refugees live once they arrive?

The family will initially settle in Toronto, where our team will be able to offer them ongoing support. Ideally the family will move directly into an apartment we have secured for a year, but depending on their arrival timeline, temporary accommodations may also be needed. We have budgeted for both of these circumstances.

We do not have an apartment secured yet, but will begin looking in earnest once we know the family make-up. If you know of an apartment that might be a good fit, please get in touch at choirchoirchoir.syria@gmail.com.  Accommodations must be transit-accessible, and ideally located close to settlement services. Once we know the family’s profile, we will also be looking for areas where culturally familiar shops and amenities are available.

14.  What happens after the twelve-month sponsorship is up?

Our sponsorship of the family will formally end after they’ve been here for twelve months. We are hopeful that by that time, with our guidance, they’ll have built a wider network of resources and supportive connections, and that they’ll have found employment and be financially self-sufficient. However, we also recognize that refugees might face barriers in finding employment such as language and post-traumatic stress disorder and may require a helping hand after the first year is up. Even though we are not legally committed to helping them after the first twelve months, we are morally committed to being their family in Toronto.

If you have any further questions, please contact us at choirchoirchoir.syria@gmail.com