Toronto couple’s wedding vows included gift of new life to refugee family

17 Sep 2018 | Canada
Toronto couple’s wedding vows included gift of new life to refugee family

The Toronto couple chose to forgo wedding gifts, and instead encouraged their guests to help raise $26,000 to sponsor a refugee family and give them a new life in Canada.

Sean Ritchie and Natasha Carew snapped a photo with Ruba, 5, and Rafaa, 9, at Pearson airport on June 4 when the girls and their parents, Mohammed Abd ElnourAssgad Ali, arrived in Toronto.

After forming a core volunteer group of eight people, including the couple, Carew’s mother, co-workers and friends, they were matched with a Sudanese family who had been stuck in limbo in Jordan for almost five years.

Mohammed Abd Elnour, his wife Assgad Ali, and their two daughters, Rafaa, 9, and Ruba, 5, arrived in Toronto from Amman on June 4, just three months after they were matched with Carew’s group

Natasha Carew holds a welcome sign at Pearson airport with fellow sponsorship group members to greet the Abd Elnour family in June. From left to right, back row, Andrew Tihal, Magda Hanebach, David Comrie, Assgad Ali, Mohammed Abd Elnour, Andrew McCutchan and Kirsty Strong. Front row, from left, Rafaa Abd Elnour and Ruba Abd Elnour.

“What’s most rewarding is seeing the (family’s) two girls getting the opportunity we are afforded in Canada,” said Carew, a litigation lawyer with Gowling WLG, who, along with her husband, asked guests at their August 2017 wedding to help with the humanitarian endeavour. “We could have been the ones sitting in a refugee camp looking to get an opportunity for a new life from somebody.”

The quick arrival of a sponsored family is usually rare, but that’s not the case under the Blended Visa Office Referred (BVOR) program, which matches travel-ready refugees with sponsors. The program, which started in 2012, splits the cost of settlement between private sponsors and the federal government.

“It’s helpful the costs are shared,” said Carew. “You cannot sponsor specific people, but this is quick and your (pre-screened) family can be here in a few months.”

As of last month, the blended program’s annual 1,500 targeted spots had not been filled. Meanwhile, private groups solely supporting their own selected refugees have already claimed the 18,000 spaces allocated this year by Ottawa and must now wait until next year for new spots. Ottawa does not allow unused capacity to carry over to the following year.

In an attempt to maximize Canada’s annual quota for the blended sponsorship program, the University of Ottawa Refugee Hub, the Shapiro Foundation and Jewish Family Services Ottawa created a special fund to fully subsidize the financial commitment of private sponsors participating in the blended resettlement program. Refugees sponsored with the support of this fund will arrive before Dec. 31.

“More than 1,000 BVOR cases are at risk in 2018 if we do not mobilize Canadian sponsors,” said Jennifer Bond of the University of Ottawa. “The Refugee Hub is working with sponsors and other partners across Canada to bring as many vulnerable people to safety as we can before resettlement capacity is lost.”  thestar