In 2015, members of West Springs Free Methodist Church in Calgary, AB started the Asylum Seekers Initiative Group (ASIG) in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. No one in the group had any prior experience working with new immigrants or refugees so they turned to the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS), a non-profit organization which provides settlement and integration services to immigrants and refugees in Southern Alberta. West Springs believes that partnering with CCIS has been key in the success and growth of their initiatives.
Originally, Asylum Seekers Initiatives Group needed to focus on fundraising. They have raised over $35,000 to support the group’s initiatives. West Springs’ members have dug deep to give above and beyond their regular giving to support ASIG, but without the generous financial support from compassionate neighbours, colleagues, and friends, the task would be too great for a small congregation like West Springs Church. While donations of furniture, household goods and even vehicles are vital at critical moments in resettlement, it’s money that matters. Sponsorship requires proof of and a guarantee that a set level of funding will be in place and available to support newcomers during their first year of resettlement as they navigate their way to a stable and self-sustaining new life in a new country. It gets them out of danger into a safe place and on their way to a new life of independence while meeting all the legal requirements of immigration.
ASIG is currently involved with several families at various stages of sponsorship. This is the story of one family. Naeem and Ghazal crossed the Syrian border into a neighbouring country and applied for asylum there. Research led them to the website of CCIS who connected them with the newly formed ASIG at West Springs. The group spent months raising funds, and then waited for several more months for news. When they received the news that Naeem and Ghazal had received their papers to come to Canada, a flurry of activity erupted to find them an apartment, collect furniture and household items, and ensure all was ready. When they arrived the first words out of Naeem’s mouth were, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Since that day four months ago, Naeem and Ghazal have been exploring their new home and experiencing their first taste of winter on the Canadian prairies. After a brief stint in an entry level job, Naeem was offered a position as a plumber’s apprentice. Ghazal is occupied with full time English language study. From their very first moments in Canada, Naeem and Ghazal have looked for ways to give back to their new country. They joined the team from West Springs Church that serves meals at The Mustard Seed street ministry and they continue to participate regularly with the ministry team.
As ASIG’s financial commitment winds up because Naeem and Ghazal are financially independent, the focus shifts to social support and friendship. Naeem & Ghazal participate regularly in a Syrian Christian congregation but frequently enjoy Sunday morning worship at West Springs Church where they are always welcomed to engage and connect.
Soon after ASIG organized, members began sharing the excitement and vision with friends and colleagues. The topic came up over lunch one day with Rich Ashton, a member of Skyview Nazarene Church in Calgary. Rich caught the vision and began to attend ASIG meetings. This was followed by his pastor and a couple of church leaders. Skyview proceeded to establish its own group to assist asylum seekers, and they are currently sponsoring a family’s resettlement in Calgary.
If you would like to know more about assisting asylum seekers, please contact West Springs Free Methodist Church. They are happy to answer questions and give you some starting points.
By Alison McKinnon