Quebec Immigration Approves First Family

Dear UCM Family,

I am thrilled to announce that the first Syrian refugee family we have agreed to sponsor has been approved by Quebec Immigration! Now we must wait for Canadian Immigration to approve the family as permanent residents of Canada. We understand that this process may take anywhere from three to eight weeks. 

This means that our family could arrive sometime between mid-March and mid-April. We have a lot to prepare! 

So please join me this coming Tuesday night, March 1, 7:00 p.m., for a special program about Syrian culture and the refugee experience. (This is the second in a series of events that we are asking all volunteers who will work with the family to attend.)

Syrian Refugee Roundtable: 
Syrian Culture and the Refugee Experience
Tuesday, March 1, 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. 

Unitarian Church of Montreal
5035 de Maisonneuve Ouest, Montreal

The evening will begin with a Syrian Cultural Guide presented by Adnan Al Mhamied, followed by personal reflections about Syrian refugee experiences.

Our Guests:

Adnan Al Mhamied fled Syrian in 2014 and is now a student in McGill’s International Community Action Netowrk (ICAN) which brings together people from the Middle East studying social work and law to develop rights-based community practices to help empower citizens and foster peace.
Waseem Ramli immigrated from Syrian to Montreal many years ago and is currently helping Syrian refugees to come to Quebec. He will be joined by a recent refugee and their sponsor.

Jasmine Van Deventer is co-director of Singa Quebec, an organization dedicated to welcoming refugees “comme à la maison”.

I hope to see you Tuesday night,
Rev. Diane

Update - February 25, 2016

Volunteer Offers
We have a very generous community here at the Unitarian Church of Montreal. Since we put out the call for volunteers, many of you have offered to help in some way. Many of you have offered donations of clothing, household items, etc. Since we may be several months away from the arrival of the families we are sponsoring and since we have no way to store items for this long, we are asking you to hold on to them for now. When the time comes one of our members has very kindly offered to store items, large and small, at his home for a few weeks. 

Meantime, we expect to be in touch with the families directly through Skype and email, and hope to learn from them some of what they will need and what is important for them personally and
culturally. They may not know about some basics they will need in Canada, but they will
undoubtedly be able to tell us about other things.

Several of you have offered language instruction in English. Although we may be able to take you up on this later on, the first language need will be for French. So far, only one person has been able to offer French instruction. We hope to find more. Quebec offers French classes for refugees and we will help our families access this service. Additional French classes may be very helpful.

Congregation votes to support 2nd family
At the special congregational meeting of Feb. 7 we voted to support a second refugee family. This family is presently in Lebanon and consists of four adults – mother, father, and two adult children. They had to flee for their safety, leaving everything behind. Their safety is still at risk, so we’d like to get them here as soon as possible. The family has an entrepreneurial spirit and experience. Both adult children speak English. We expect them to integrate fairly easily. The task force recently received  an email from one of them yesterday saying “I would like to thank each one of you very much for your help and for your sense of humanity.”

2nd Cultural Sensitivity Event
On Tuesday, March 1, at 7 pm there will be a roundtable discussion focusing on specific issues that Syrian refugee often encounter in Montreal. Participants will include long-time residents  and new arrivals from Syria. This promises to be a very interesting and eye-opening event. Everyone is welcome to attend. 

Fundraising Idea
One of our members reports that she posted a call on her Facebook page for donations to our
refugee sponsorship fund and her contacts have begun donating through Canada Helps. Maybe
others would consider doing this. 

Sponsoring a Second Syrian Refugee Family

As part of our effort to support refugees, the congregation voted this past Sunday to sponsor a second Syrian refugee family. I’m proud of this decision, and I know that we have a lot of work ahead! 

The first family we will sponsor is comprised of 2 adults and 7 children. The second family is comprised of four adults. We don’t know when they will be arriving, but the Refugee Sponsorship Task Force is working hard to get everything in place before they come.

It is so important for us to remember that we are not adopting a family. We are acting as sponsors. As sponsors we will help refugee families integrate as quickly as possible into their own lives here. Our role as sponsors is critical. By making a one-year commitment to the government, we’re enabling these families to escape terrible circumstances. 

When the families first arrive, they will need time to adjust. Our initial engagements will be limited to the essential: helping them to get health cards, choose housing, enroll their children in school, etc.  April Hope at the Canadian Unitarian Council, who has been helping to settle refugees for the past five years, tells us that refugee families usually go through several months of needing to normalize home life. She says that in the beginning, it is important to limit contact to 2 or 3 people from the sponsoring group. These individuals will act as liaisons between the family and the congregation. Imagine how overwhelming it would be to be approached by lots and lots of people! 

These are families who have chosen to immigrate to Quebec and not elsewhere in Canada. This means that, in order to be successful here, they will need to learn French. Their children will be going to school in French, and that means that the families will need more support in French than anything else to navigate the system. 

It is important for us to respect the families’ decisions. They will need time to determine their needs for themselves, whether it is learning French, English, developing job skills, etc. In the beginning, they will most certainly want to focus on their children's needs.

Yes, it is possible that we will build strong bonds with these families. It is also possible that we will simply be a conduit for them. Either way, we will have done something truly significant to take action in the world. We are doing this not to meet our own needs to feel good about ourselves, but to help people reclaim control of their own lives. 

Thank you for your care and commitment to this endeavour,

Rev. Diane 

Report from the Fundraising Committee for the Syrian Refugee Fund

With the fantastic news that a Syrian family has been chosen, there is a new urgency to raise the funds necessary to sponsor them.

We’re encouraging UCM members to solicit funds from neighbours and friends. One of our youth members raised over $500 last weekend going door to door in her neighbourhood. Many people were eager to give, and some gave a considerable amount. Another of our members had the idea to solicit funds from fellow teachers at her college during lunch hour and raised almost $120.
If you’re willing to help with this campaign, please email for a copy of the required form.

Or, if asking for donations is not your thing, you are invited to go to the UCM website and make a pledge. Every donation is greatly appreciated and tax receipts are available for donations of $25 or more.

February 7 Meeting - Update on Refugee Sponsorhip

We invite you to a special meeting on February 7 at noon following the service to discuss the advancement of our refugee sponsorship project. We are thrilled to have been matched with Omar, Salwa and their childen! Thanks to your generosity, the funding is going very well. We have the opportunity to sponsor a second, smaller family and we would like to offer everyone the chance to discuss this possibility.

Vous êtes invités à une réunion le 7 février prochain après le service (midi) pour avoir les dernières nouvelles du projet de parrainage d'une famille de réfugiés. Le processus va bon train pour une grande famille de neuf personnes que nous espérons accueillir bientôt. Merci de votre créativité et générosité pour la collecte de fonds qui est un grand succès. Nous sommes inspirés et souhaitons discuter et proposer le parrainage d'une deuxième famille.

Refugee Sponsorship Update January 28, 2016

We have wonderful news: we have identified the family that we will sponsor. Omar, Salwa and their seven children fled Syria for Jordan in 2012 after their town was levelled by airstrikes. They lost everything, but in Jordan the authorities do not permit them to work. Their situation is dire.
Omar, Salwa, and the three older children speak some English. They know about Quebec and Canada, and really want to come here. They know they will need to learn French and are ready to do this. The children (3 girls and 4 boys) are 3½ to 19.

This will be a real adventure for all of us, helping this family to integrate into Montreal society. With the wonderful outpouring of volunteers and contributions, we know we are up to the job.
Once we have an approximate date for the family's arrival, we'll need to form small teams to support them in the following areas:

  •  Housing (affordable rent, easy access to schools, public transportation, etc.)
  •  Clothing, furniture and other household goods - Locating interpreters - Education (getting the children into appropriate schools)
  •  Language learning (helping them learn French, enrolling adults in French classes)
  •  Health (navigating the RAMQ, finding doctors and dentists)
  •  Employment (Omar was a decorative interior painter and taught Taekwondo)
  •  Personal finance (understanding financial life here in Montreal, budgeting with limited resources, adapting to our costs, social programs, taxes, etc.)
  •  General orientation (banking, transportation, grocery shopping, etc.)

You don't have to volunteer for a specific area. We will certainly need people who can help out when needed. Also, there will be an obligatory 3-part program of cultural sensitivity training for everyone who wants to have direct contact with the family. The first part is scheduled for Saturday, February 20th (read the details in the Monthly Events section on page 11).
Meanwhile, please let us know your first and second choice of area to work in by sending a note to

Thank you, everyone, for your enthusiasm and support!
Refugee Task Force