In a year marred by difficulties, the humanitarian situation of many refugees around the world has worsened. Many LGBTQ+ asylum seekers around the world continued to feel the devastating impact of the pandemic as they remain trapped in dangerous situations because of closed borders. For LGBTQ+ refugees already in Canada, the prolonged delays of Immigration and Refugee Hearings resulted in increased anxiety and uncertainty. To support the critical needs of LGBTQ+ refugees, MCC Toronto’s LGBTQ+ Refugee Programs continued to evolve and adapt.
Throughout 2021, MCC Toronto’s staff and volunteer team worked tirelessly to engage program participants. We continued to enhance our online programming, created even more opportunities for participants to support each other through increased check-ins, and increased direct one-on-one supports.
Our Year in Review:
- Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR): Through our private sponsorship team support, we submitted 15 new applications to privately sponsor LGBTQ+ refugees outside of Canada who are facing persecution due to their sexual orientation gender identity and expression (SOGIE). Of the number of applications submitted, 10 were administered through our partnership with Rainbow Railroad, while MCC Toronto was responsible for the administration of the remaining 5 applications which for us represented an increase based on the initial target to submit 2 applications in 2021.
- Biweekly orientation sessions: Our sessions continued online. We welcomed 125 new participants to our program in 2021, a slight decrease from 2020 caused mostly by border crossing restrictions. These orientation sessions provided a vital first point of connection with LGBTQ+ refugees to Canada. Unlike refugees brought to Canada through sponsorship, many of our program participants arrived in Canada not having the benefit of a supportive team to welcome them. Some of these participants have indicated how scared and traumatized they were upon arrival. Our weekly sessions provided them with a safe space for within a community of peers where they are recognized and celebrated.
- Weekly Let’s Chat & Information Sessions: We continued to host weekly “Let’s Chat” and “Information Sessions”. These online sessions – typically attended by 20 to 40 program participants – afforded our members the opportunity to interact with and support their peers while learning about issues which specifically touch and concern them as refugees and by extension as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Many of the attendees expressed how grateful they were to MCC Toronto for hosting these sessions during periods of isolation and uncertainty. It has been a challenging time for LGBTQ+ refugees but our staff team worked very hard to keep program participants informed, involved, and connected.
- Lawyer Sessions: At our monthly lawyer sessions, we invited qualified attorneys who are also members of the LGBTQ+ community to provide complimentary legal information to our members on numerous immigration related topics. Our members have found these sessions to be especially valuable and were more willing to participate and ask questions since the information shared was tailored to the needs of the group and covered, among other things:
- An overview of the refugee determination systems in Canada.
- How to adequately prepare for hearings.
- Overcoming issues of creditability and inadmissibility.
- Providing tangible and compelling evidence to support one’s claim and reach a successful decision.
- Options available should one receive a failed decision.
- Panel Discussions: These sessions brought together program participants who are still waiting for their refugee hearings to hear about the success other refugees have had. Learnings from these discussions helped to make our program participants better prepared for their own hearings.
- One-on-one supports: Despite not being able to resume our in-person sessions in 2021, we continued to connect with participants by telephone, email and through our regular biweekly LGBTQ+ Refugee Program newsletter which currently has 1700+ subscribers. We continued to provide membership letters on request which are used as supporting evidence at Refugee hearings. A total of 148 letters were issued to program participants in 2021. We also provided in-kind donations such at our summer and winter clothing distribution drives as well as items of furniture to persons in need.
At the beginning of 2021, our plan was to introduce a food component to all our in-person programs, a new initiative which was made possible by a generous gift from the Tippet Foundation. While that initiative as planned was delayed, we managed to end the year with two community meals for program participants in November and December 2021 while observing the necessary protocols at that time. Participants were especially greatly to share in the food, music, games, and other festivities. Jointly, we had approximately 50 participants in attendance at each of these community meals and participants received grocery vouchers at second session.
Beyond our programming, MCC Toronto continued to forge partnerships with other organizations to assist program participants in key areas including health and wellness, employment, housing, food security and other community supports. Some of these partner organizations include:
– Tent Partnership for Refugees (www.tent.org)
– Sanctuary North (www.sanctuarynorth.ca)
– Achēv (www.achev.ca)
– Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (www.blackcap.ca)
– Toronto People Living with AIDS (www.pwatoronto.org)
In terms of advocacy and education, we continued to work with other similar interest groups and organizations such as:
– Rainbow Coalition for Refuge
– Canadian Council for Refugees
– Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association
– Refugee Sponsorship Training Program
On behalf of the LGBTQ+ refugees we serve, MCC Toronto extends heartfelt thanks to the many community members who support our life changing and life saving work. Special thanks to the following Foundations for their support of our program in 2021: Community One Foundation, The Catherine & Maxwell Meighen Foundation and the Tippet Foundation.
“I can’t even express how grateful I am to MCC Toronto’s Refugee Program team for saving my partner and me. I’m hundred per cent sure they went above and beyond to help us resettle despite all the challenges we faced. It wasn’t easy. Not only did they guide us through very complex legal procedures, but they also supported us emotionally every step of the way. There’s nothing we can do to return all the kindness and support we received at MCC Toronto to be able to live as ourselves and love each other.”
-A program participant from Iran where LGBTQ+ people face imprisonment or death for being gay
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