The Sultan family welcomed to Canada by their sponsors. Photo: Kailee Brennan.
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sponsorship program covers costs to bring a family of eight to Canada

A Syrian family of eight is calling Canada home thanks to a sponsorship program facilitated by the Refugee Hub at the University of Ottawa.

On Nov. 20, Aveer and Khaled Sultan landed at the Ottawa International Airport with their six children, and the family is now living in a home in Brockville, Ont.

“There are many Syrian families that are desperate to get out of there,” said sponsor Ahmad Khadra. Although the sponsors hoped to resettle more refugees, they lacked the necessary funds to do so.

The Refugee Hub’s Blended Visa Office Related (BVOR) program financed the sponsorship, and Khadra’s group will help get the family settled.

Through the BVOR program, the Canadian government will contribute 50 per cent of resettlement costs for six months, matched by funds from the Giustra Foundation and the Shapiro Foundation, as well as six private donors.

Khadra’s group helped to find and furnish the Sultan family’s home, and is in the process of organizing health checks, banking, and schooling.

“They came here with zero schooling,” Khadra said of the children. “Just last night I asked them what have they learned.”

The six children, in both elementary and high school, are currently learning the basics of English and math. “They are very happy and are eager to learn, and the people around them are surrounding them with warmness and welcoming,” said Khadra.

This year, the BVOR program hoped to secure 15,000 sponsorships. However, only 300 refugees arrived in Canada by August. Brennan said that’s because a large number of sponsorships occurred from 2015–16.

In August, the U of O’s Refugee Hub launched a fund of $3.5 million for potential donors, which secured 150 sponsor groups across 49 provinces. Since the fund’s launch, over 600 individuals have been sponsored—doubling the number of refugees brought through the program from January to August.

“Because of that some of our sponsors and donors here decided that they would like to subsidize what the sponsors had to pay,” said Refugee Hub outreach officer, Kailee Brennan.

Selecting refugees referred by the United Nations, the BVOR program lists individuals and families with vulnerabilities, such as severe medical cases and survivors of violence.

Although the Sultan family are not relatives of their sponsors, Khadra said he took a lesson from Brockville churches. He told his sponsorship group, “When the churches sponsored you, they didn’t know anything about you or who you are.”

Interested in finding sponsors, Brennan held an information session in August—leading to the Sultan family’s sponsorship.

In addition to resettlement costs, many refugee families face challenges like adapting to Canadian weather and accessing language classes, said Brennan. To help refugees navigate Canada’s judicial system, the Refugee Hub connects refugees with pro-bono lawyers who assist in filing paperwork and securing employment.

In addition to adjusting to a new country, Brennan added that it’s often challenging for families who have relatives left behind.

“It’s hard for them to feel really settled knowing that they’ve left their family members in danger.”

Students interested in learning more and getting involved in the Refugee Hub’s programs can contact: