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Stepping Up: Nonprofits’ and Charities’ Role in Welcoming Refugees

The nonprofit and charitable sector has a reputation for stepping up in changing times and in times of need. We value and celebrate inclusivity; we open our doors and our programs and services to all in our communities on an ongoing basis. So the place we find ourselves now with respect to an influx of refugees is really no different – albeit requiring a more rapid response in a shortened time frame.
Refugees will be arriving from places of crisis and fear; not arriving INTO a place of crisis. It is incumbent on us as citizens and organizations to frame our relationship with incoming refugees and immigrants as one of transition and welcome rather than urgency or crisis. It is an opportunity and privilege for Ontarians and Ontario’s nonprofit and charitable sector to welcome refugees.  And our communications, internally and externally, need to reflect this.

Many, many, MANY nonprofits and charities have been engaged in recent weeks, months, if not years, in welcoming immigrants and refugees. Our strong settlement service organizations will play a lead role in supporting the new Canadians in their initial and ongoing settlement, but they can’t do it alone. Leadership by thousands of community organizations, including neighbourhood centres, community and mental health providers, arts, and sports organizations will be critical to settling these newcomers. In our rush to ensure our communities are ready, now is not the time to duplicate social infrastructure, programs, or services, but to build on our networks and collaborate together. In every community, we have organizations with expertise, strong community connections, and the capability to scale up to meet the needs and provide opportunities as new residents join our communities.

Some in our sector will need additional capacity and resources to ramp up over a shortened period of time and we will rely on our partners – government, private sector – and our communities and residents to help us do just that. Now is the time for all of us in the sector to be bold and creative; to act as true partners with government and the private sector, and to work together to support to provide seamless services to our newest Ontarians.

Sometimes, as these moments of international crisis hit home, it’s important that we don’t forget  (and that we don’t forget to communicate) that we have responsibilities and obligations to everyone in our communities. Welcoming refugees is a role we can play in addition to the rest of the mission-driven work we do and doesn’t replace the role we have in supporting others.

What can the nonprofit sector do to step up? Here are three simple ideas:

1. Be consistent in our use of language – welcoming refugees rather than dealing with a refugee crisis in our own communities. Model the behaviour we want to see from others.
2. Ensure your organization considers how it can best welcome newcomers  – whether you are a direct social service organization, a community sports organization or facility, a theatre or arts program, or a faith community – your service may not be needed in the immediate days but we all know that the settlement process takes much, much longer and our sector can step up to make it that much easier and more welcoming for all. Partnerships and collaboration will be essential.
3. Share accurate and straightforward information. We encourage you link to the following four websites. Let’s keep it simple and do our part as information brokers and networks leaders in our sectors and communities to ensure the public gets the right information at the right time.

Websites to share:

At a recent forum he hosted on welcoming Syrian refugees to Canada, the Governor General David Johnston recently said “This is a defining moment for Canada, a defining moment for all of us. And it’s even more than that. It’s an opportunity,” Johnson said, to reimagine how Canada takes care of its most marginalized and vulnerable and provides equality of opportunity.

We know our sector will seize on this opportunity and play a leadership role in the days, weeks and months to come.

December 15, 2015 at 10:40 am
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