WINNIPEG - Canada needs a more Christian approach to accepting homeless refugees fleeing war, oppression and starvation, says the co-executive director of Winnipeg's Hospitality House Refugee Ministry. Tom Denton, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, challenged the faithful of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg Oct. 16 "to examine the issue in all its dimensions in the light of Gospel teachings." Denton also thanked the archdiocese for its "generosity of gifts" to Hospitality House that have helped sponsor thousands of refugees to Canada since 1992.
"We couldn't do it without you," he said.
Denton was speaking following a mass with Archbishop Richard Gagnon celebrating the conclusion of the archdiocesan Pastoral Vision, Building a Church of Communion.
Hospitality House is operated by the Archdiocese of Winnipeg and the Anglican Diocese of Rupertsland, both of which are refugee sponsorship agreement holders with the federal government. The non-profit organization was co-founded in 1992 by Sister Aileen Gleason and the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions.
Most of the sponsorships are family linked, meaning that a family member living in Winnipeg has asked Hospitality House to assist in sponsoring a family member who is living in a refugee camp somewhere in the world. Hospitality House assists with the application process and, once the refugee has arrived in Canada, arranges for adequate living accommodations and other services to help them create a new life here.
Hospitality House, the largest individual private sponsor of refugees into Canada, relies on the work of dozens of volunteers including its board of directors. In 2012 the non-profit group brought 358 sponsored refugees to Canada; in 2013 the number jumped to 571 and at the end of July this year there were 391 arrivals. Denton said thousands more never make it because of what he calls restrictive federal government policies. "Canada boasts of generosity, but there are 51 million refugees in the world," he said, and Canada only allows about 6,000 privately sponsored refugees to enter the country each year.
Canada has closed embassies in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kiev, Denton said, severely reducing the chances that refugees can find a way out.
"The rule is, a person can only be sponsored as a refugee if you are outside your country of citizenship. Iraqis in Iraq cannot be sponsored out of there. It's the same with six million people internally displaced in Syria," he said.
Denton, who was invested into the Order of Manitoba in May, said that in a place such as the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which fell to the army of religious extremists called ISIS after fierce battles with government forces, "there is no mechanism on the ground to get people out of there."
Denton said if a refugee manages to escape war in his own country, that person can't be sponsored out of a stable nation to join family here because Canada deems those places as a safe "durable solution." The Canadian government has not yet allowed any new sponsoring by Canada's sponsorship agreement holders for 2014, although permission is anticipated soon.
Canada was built "by waves of immigrants," Denton said. "We clearly are not the compassionate Canada we once were."
"Can countries be democratic and tolerate people dying on their doorstep? Is this not a social justice issue to stir the church to its very core?," he asked.
Denton said on World Refugee Day, June 20, 2014, Pope Francis asked that "we be close to these people sharing their fears and uncertainty for the future, and alleviating their pain with concrete measures." The pope further prayed, "May the Lord sustain those people and institutions who work with generosity to assure a welcome to refugees, recognize their dignity and give them reasons to hope."
Denton said the financial needs of Hospitality House continue despite a successful fundraising campaign in 2013. "But the nature of the work and the growth in arrivals has meant that these needs continue."