In March 1990, I fled my home with my parents and extended family members. We didn’t have any clue of where we were heading. We just wanted to run away from the Iraqi troops that were getting closer to our home city of more than half a million population. We could hear the sounds of bombs shelling and fire shots getting closer. This all happened in the aftermath of the first Gulf War or is known as Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait from the army of dictator Saddam Hussein.
It took me and my family seven long days of walking to get to an artificial border that separates my country of Kurdistan. During then, I felt that the entire world had forgotten us. This incident changed my life from a university student to a hopeless refugee merely because of being a member of a particular minority group, the Kurds.
Years later in Canada, I started working as a settlement worker for MOSAIC, an organization that was founded and led by refugees and immigrants. My interest in refugee issues continued and I started participating more in discussions at the local, provincial and federal levels in Canada to advocate on refugee issues. In 2007, I became more involved in Canada’s Private Sponsorship Program.
MOSAIC allowed me to take lead on working closely with private sponsors and supporting privately sponsored refugees. Soon MOSAIC became the go to settlement organization in Metro Vancouver region in supporting privately sponsored refugees. MOSAIC played an important role in the resettlement of many privately sponsored refugees including Tibetans, Palestinians, Iraqis, Sudanese, and many others.
In 2016, when the Board of MOSAIC launched a campaign to support the settlement of 1,000 refugees if they were resettled by the Government of Canada, I was assigned by MOSAIC to lead the efforts. With the support of a small team, I started connecting with private sponsors, volunteers who were interested in supporting refugees, potential sponsors, community groups and Sponsorship Agreement Holders to support Government of Canada’s efforts to resettle Syrian refugees. MOSAIC managed to connect more than 200 Syrian refugees who had family members in British Columbia, Canada.
In the same year, MOSAIC received funding from the Provincial Government of British Columba to lead the Refugee Response Team in Metro Vancouver, an initiative to bring organizations, groups and government representatives to address the needs of refugees who would be resettled in the biggest regions of British Columbia. In 2017, MOSAIC became a Sponsorship Agreement Holder, a status that allows our agency to identify, nominate and privately sponsor refugees.
My refugee experience and the sense of being forgotten as a refugee continued to influence my work. That’s why when I was approached by advocates from Australia and in Canada about refugees who were affected by the Australia policy to process their applications in processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, I immediately felt that it is the right thing to do. I approached MOSAIC leadership and the Board, they too felt that it was the right thing to do and agreed to dedicate our Sponsorship Agreement Holder status to support the “forgotten” refugees in PNG and Nauru. All our previous sponsorship undertakings involved good and dedicated partners. The same applies to Operation #NotForgotten. We are so fortunate to be working closely with the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), AdsUp Canada, UNHCR and several other groups.
MOSAIC wouldn’t have been able to do this without the amazing support of RCOA. RCOA has been able to raise funds, provide advice and guidance, advocate with authorities in Australia and elsewhere, and raise awareness about the plight of refugees and Operation #NotForgotten.
Although COVID-19 delayed the processing of applications, but we hope that we will start welcoming refugees this year as we were informed that several refugees have already been asked to do their medical exams which is a step closer to getting their visas to come to Canada.
RCOA’s Canadian partner MOSAIC is aiming in 2021 to double the number of private sponsorship applications put forward for refugees needing a lifeline out of Australia’s offshore processing regime in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
In the 12 months to November 2020, MOSAIC submitted 182 sponsorship applications for 97 refugees affected by offshore processing and 85 separated family members, assisted by more than $2 million raised by the Australian public through RCOA and the Ads-Up network. MOSAIC is hoping to welcome the first members of this group to Canada in the first half of 2021, if COVID-19 travel restrictions allow.
For 2021, MOSAIC is hoping to have access to close to 200 more sponsorship spots, if sufficient funds can be raised. Under Canadian Government rules, the sponsoring body must have funds available to support each sponsored refugee during the first year of life in Canada. Around AU$18,000 is required for a single adult, with between $9000 and $3000 for each additional family member.
In 2021, another $2 million will be needed. Australians can make tax-deductible donations through RCOA.
Saleem Spindari is MOSAIC’S Senior Manager Refugees and Migrant Workers Programs