On September 2 last year, a single photograph became an inflection point in the conversation over Syrian refugees: Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s tiny corpse lying on a beach. His uncle’s application for refugee status had been rejected by the Canadian government and the issue had an impact on federal elections in October.
More importantly, it became a very human matter. In Toronto, 44-year-old Hyderabad-born Indo-Canadian Henna Agha reacted: “Suddenly, the picture of Aylan Kurdi hit the news, and we were overwhelmed with sadness and helplessness. How to help people a half a world away?
“A few days later I was contacted by some friends who said they were putting together a group to sponsor a refugee family, would Samie and I be interested? The answer was an immediate and resounding YES!”
Canada expects to welcome about 10,000 privately sponsored refugees by the end of 2015, over and above the 25,000 the government plans on bringing in. Among the groups involved in the process is Riverdale Refugee Lifeline, comprising 24 people, including Agha.
It partnered early with the Eastminster United Church and applied to sponsor a single family of five to seven members or two smaller linked families.
Agha said, “Our commitment is to support the family for the first year. Financial, emotional, material, and in all other ways.”
Her group has already scouted and secured a temporary apartment and furnished it. “We have translators ready and waiting. At this point we are just waiting for the email that tells us we have a match. Then the real work begins,” Agha said. She pointed out that since 1979, over 275,000 privately sponsored refugees had arrived in Canada.
“Once we have been matched, which hopefully will happen soon, the family arrives in approximately two weeks,” she said. And this sense of anticipation is rife across communities in Canada.