Justice office aids refugees

By  Laureen McMahon, Canadian Catholic News
  • September 28, 2011

VANCOUVER - The most shocking experience of her life, says Lindseigh Lochhead, was the year she taught English in refugee camps in Thailand.

“I met many who had been persecuted. The conditions in the camps lacked dignity, and many despaired of ever being able to return home,” said the administrator of the Refugee Outreach Program of the Office of Service and Justice of the Vancouver archdiocese.

Shaken but not discouraged, Lochhead became determined to help. She returned to Vancouver to get a degree, expecting to return to Thailand. Instead an opportunity opened up to work with refugees coming to Canada through government sponsorship programs.

St. Joseph’s parish in Langley is among 15 parishes in the archdiocese to step up to welcome refugees and assist them to settle in this country. In 2006, when a large number arrived, parishioners went into action to help with resettlement. When another influx came shortly afterward, the parish again opened its doors to welcome them.

Today, said Lochhead, around 400 refugees have found a new home with the help of St. Joseph’s, and many parishioners have helped.

A team of about eight core people from St. Joseph’s and elsewhere got together to offer an English program which is “fantastic,” said Lochhead, “because the government program couldn’t cope with the large number of immigrants who needed language skills. Before this happened people were waiting up to a year for language classes.”

Five Catholic refugee families have even been helped to send their children to a Catholic school, she said.

Long time St. Joseph’s parishioner Dominica Pastrin is one of the eight people from the “grassroots” group that was formed to aid the Karen refugees from Thailand who came to Surrey and Langley. She verified that each time a request for assistance went out for help, the response was positive.

“The parish and the Langley community have been so generous. They always say ‘yes,’ ” said Pastrin.

Once a pastor and parish council have indicated they wish to take on sponsorship, Lochhead helps with screening and processing application agreements between the parish and the Citizenship and Immigration office. She also helps parishes form a refugee resettlement committee and guides them through host training programs to support the newcomers.

“We complete the paperwork, maintain all the correspondence and support the parish through the 12 months after the resettlement,” said Lochhead.

She also tries to involve the greater community through volunteer-based services with experienced professionals who can help with employment counselling, teaching life skills, ESL classes, introduction to community groups, etc.

“We encourage interested parishes to apply,” said Lochhead. The wait between applying to sponsor refugees and their arrival in Canada is often about six months, she said.

(The B.C. Catholic)

This article is part of our Call to Service special feature.

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Justice office aids refugees

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