At the start of 2020, MCC Toronto’s LGBTQ+ Refugee Programs were coming off one of its busiest years ever.
- 350 LGBTQ+ refugee claimants, representing 24 countries, registered anew to our Refugee Claimants Program; combined with participants from previous years, the Program was serving 800 LGBTQ+ refugees in total.
- Our Refugee Claimants Program continued to offer in-person orientation, information sessions, work permit application support, one-on-one support, peer support as well as opportunities for social gatherings; on a typical week, our staff and volunteer team was seeing over 45-60 participants.
- Our popular orientation and information sessions continued on a weekly basis.
- Through our private sponsorship team support, we were preparing to welcome two LGBTQ+ couples to Canada.
At the start of 2020, we were also beginning to plan for the introduction of a food component to all our in-person programs, a new initiative made possible by a generous gift from the Tippet Foundation.
Like all other service organizations, MCC Toronto’s LGBTQ+ Refugee Programs were forced to adapt in March 2020. Our staff and volunteer teams maintained regular contact with program participants via email and phone while our orientation and information sessions were quickly re-shaped into an online format. By the last days of March, we were able to launch these online programs and provide support to participants on how to use ZOOM and other connecting platforms.
As the Canadian borders closed to non-essential travel, we received notice that all flights for refugees were suspended as well and that the refugee couple we had been expecting to arrive would be delayed indefinitely.
Another harsh impact of the pandemic was the suspension of Refugee Board Hearings interrupting the possibility of program participants to make long-term plans for their future in Canada.
To keep program participants connected and engaged during these uncertain times, we worked hard to provide guidance, information and support through on-going outreach efforts and our weekly e-newsletters. Some of our topics included:
- Information on the State of emergency declared in Ontario
- What should I do if I am experiencing symptoms of COVID-19?
- Updates on the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
- Updates on Canada’s response to COVID-19
- Emergency benefits and financial aid
- Care and support networks
- Healthcare for Uninsured Migrants during COVID-19
We also introduced a new weekly engagement program called “Let’s Chat”. This forum provided an important opportunity for program participants to connect and support each other while braving the pandemic in isolation. It has been a challenging time for LGBTQ+ refugees but our staff team has worked hard to keep program participants informed, engaged, and connected.
We worked with many community partners to create a series of special online sessions and workshops for program participants through the spring, summer and fall, including:
- “Speaking Out Through Media”, a series of virtual workshops with media-makers on a variety of topics including “Creating a Short Film with a Cell Phone”, Podcasting, and creating digital stories
- A session with a registered nurse to answer COVID-19 questions
- Multiple sessions on gathering support for your refugee claim, renewing your work permit, and accessing community supports.
In 2020 we established new partnerships with refugee lawyers to ensure our participants received appropriate legal information on hearing updates and on how to better prepare for their hearings and gather evidence. These laywers attended and ran information sessions and made themselves available to answer inquiries. Other new partnerships this year included a new mentorship initiative with several private corporations, more media and art workshops through Ryerson University and available expertise of the labour market with Career Specialist, Lisa Trudel.
Our e-newsletter reaches 1760+ subscribers every week and we have added new interactive components such as “Community Notices” for participants and other community members to share news and information, including if they have housing available, or if their employer is hiring.
In 2020, MCC Toronto LGBTQ+ Refugee Programs issued 408 membership letters to assist in refugee determination hearings and provided in-kind donations to over 90 participants in need.
In September, we finally welcomed the couple who had originally been set to arrive in March. And by the end of the year, we had submitted 15 applications to privately sponsor LGBTQ+ refugees suffering persecution abroad. We have worked with over 50 volunteers who have been or will be helping refugees settle in Toronto.
Our memberships and continued collaboration with the Canadian Rainbow Coalition for Refuge, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association has meant that we have been able to accomplish critical advocacy wins for LGBTQ+ refugees. From ensuring that refugee claimants were eligible for COVID-19 relief benefits, to increasing the number of cost-sharing spots in the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Partnership (Rainbow RAP) to 50, to resuming travel for refugees who had visas ready before the unset of the pandemic, MCC Toronto and its partners continue to give voice to the needs of LGBTQ+ refugees in Canada.
As part of the LGBTQ+ Regional Central Committee, we continued to provide expertise, guidance, and support in the creation of national guidelines. These guidelines provide practical and operational tools in assisting LGBTQ+ refugees and migrants in settlement services which can be efficiently implemented in large, medium, and small-sized organizations.
We remain grateful for the continued support of our MCC Toronto family and the broader community. On behalf of the program participants, we serve (like Gloria below) – thank you!
“MCC Toronto is a place that welcomes everyone, regardless of your religion and regardless of your sexuality. I don’t know how I would have coped without MCC Toronto because I didn’t have anybody to talk with. So I come here and talk with people, laugh and I involve myself in the program and I’ve learned a lot.”
– Gloria (September 2020)
Gloria fled her home in Nigeria in 2018. LGBTQ people face up to 14 years in jail because of the country’s Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, nicknamed the ‘Jail the Gays’ law.
Interested in supporting our LGBTQ+ Refugee Programs through a $10 monthly gift? Click here to email us.
Interested in making a one-time gift in support of our LGBTQ+ Refugee Programs?
Listen again! An episode of CBC Radio’s Tapestry program from September 2020 – ‘We need places like this’: LGBTQ refugees find support at Toronto church
Categorized in: News