Paulette Johnson

Paulette Johnson

July 7, 2014

Parishes have been slow to answer the archdiocese's call to sponsor refugees despite a recent plea from Archbishop Richard Smith.

But Paulette Johnson, refugee sponsorship coordinator at Catholic Social Services, thinks it is simply bad timing. After all, it is summer and parishioners may be away on holidays.

"I've had a couple of people who asked questions from a parish but I haven't had any parish (express interest in sponsoring a refugee yet)," Johnson said in an interview late last month.


"My experience tells me this is a difficult time of the year. Their committees don't even meet over the summer."

However, Johnson got a call from Athabasca, which is outside the Edmonton Archdiocese. "They said, 'We want to take one of these cases.'" Now the group is waiting for their refugee to arrive.

Johnson says participating parishes need to have a committee ready to do some of the initial work required, such as welcoming the refugees at the airport and getting them a place to live. Once a parish commits to sponsoring a refugee "you can have people arriving in a month," she explained.

The Edmonton Archdiocese has been involved in sponsoring refugees to Alberta since 1979. Over the past 35 years, parishes and religious communities across the archdiocese have sponsored nearly 5,000 refugees.

The Canadian government is asking sponsoring organizations to increase their involvement this year by sponsoring 500 refugees who have no relatives in Canada. These refugees, who have no hope of returning to their country, come from Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Bhutan and Burma.

In a June 4 letter to the priests of the archdiocese, Smith said the archdiocese will respond to the federal appeal, with a goal to sponsor 50 refugees. "Please discuss this urgent need with your parish pastoral council to discern how you may assist," the archbishop says in the letter.

"Every time there has been a special appeal it's been wonderful how the parishes have stepped forward," said Johnson, pointing to the resettlement of refugees from Bosnia and Kosovo in the late 1990s.

"It was incredible. I couldn't keep up with the phone calls."

Sponsoring a refugee requires both a financial and volunteer commitment and includes meeting the refugee family upon arrival, arranging for housing and furnishings, providing orientation to community services and providing financial support for six months.


The federal government will provide financial support for an additional six months for these cases. Sponsors are not responsible for the refugees' transportation costs.

A parish could take a single person or maybe two from the same country and have them share an apartment to reduce rent costs, Johnson said. Once there is a firm commitment from a parish, a refugee could arrive within a month to six weeks.

Johnson said if she doesn't hear from parishes after the summer holidays, she will draw up a list of parishes that have been involved in sponsorships in the past and try to meet with them.

"I want to talk to them about the archbishop's letter and show them some of the profiles of the refugees who need to have a sponsor."

More than 51 million people are now forcibly displaced worldwide, the largest number since World War Two. Half of the worldwide refugee population in 2013 were children – the most in a decade.

Parishes and organizations interested in sponsoring refugees can contact Johnson at 780-391-3327.