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New Report – Changing the Way We Welcome Refugee Claimants

April 5, 2022 by Loren Balisky

Feeling the inadequacy and frustration of the humanitarian, charitable, and organizational approaches to welcoming refugee claimants, the Kinbrace community asked the question:

“What would a values-based, human-centred, and transformational welcome for and with people seeking refuge and protection in Canada look like?”

Thanks to donors’ ongoing support, the wisdom and guidance of a diverse research steering committee, the researching and reporting skills of Alexandra Dawley Consulting, and funding from the Vancouver Foundation and The Houssian Foundation, this new report – From Humanitarian to Human: Changing the Way We Welcome Refugee Claimants – is now available for you and for everyone wondering about about how to amplify dignity, belonging, and wellbeing for and with refugee claimants.

The research was conducted in a unique way: instead of asking about challenges refugee claimants faced, they were asked,

“In your journey as a refugee claimant, tell us about the ‘bright moments’ when you experienced dignity, belonging, and wellbeing…”

Creative processes (writing prose and poetry, making art – all captured in the report) were part of the telling and listening journey.

The voices of people with refugee claimant experience are distilled in 9 actionable recommendations. Some recommendations may resonate with you, affirming what you already know and do. Other recommendations may surprise and challenge you.

If we can collectively pursue these recommendations, we will indeed bring increased and much needed change with refugee claimants in Canada.

new safety pathway to Canada for Ukrainians bypasses refugee convention

March 23, 2022 by Loren Balisky

The harm inflicted on Ukraine by Russia is horrific. And it is deeply impacting Ukraine’s people who are fleeing for safety by the millions into neighbouring countries and beyond.

We need to do everything we can to help.

As we do, keep the following in mind, and take appropriate action.

Canada’s unprecedented offer to displaced Ukrainians requires our equitable action.

In response to the now more than 3 million Ukrainians who have fled their country into Poland, Romania, and other neighbouring countries, the Canadian government introduced the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel.

This special measure “offers Ukrainians and their family members free, extended temporary status and allows them to work, study and stay in Canada until it is safe for them to return home.”

As perfectly appropriate to the situation this is, it is an extraordinary, unprecedented offer by Canada to a population that is forcibly displaced.

I sincerely hope this is the way of the future – a timely, open-door response that fast-tracks people from forced displacement to safety with few barriers in between.

Until now, Canada’s refugee resettlement (Government Assisted and Privately Sponsored Refugees) programs have been used to provide a permanent home in Canada to over 73,000 Syrians since that war started in 2015.

The same mechanisms have been used to resettle about 9000 of the promised 40,000 Afghans since last summer.

For asylum seekers who get to Canada on their own initiative often at great cost and risk, they access Canada’s inland refugee determination system with its offer of refugee protection.

To date, prior to the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel, forcibly displaced people found their path to safety in Canada through programs adhering to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Why, then, this unprecedented offer to Ukrainians that bypasses the refugee convention?

One rationale is based on the belief their stay will be temporary; Ukrainians will want to return home once the war is over.

While the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel is celebrated and already in use to offer Ukrainians safety, it also raises equity concerns.

Of the 48,014 people whose claims for refugee protection were finalized in Canada in 2021 by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 92% were non-white, non-caucasian. They were from Asia, South and Central America (and Mexico), Africa, and the Middle East.

At the end of 2021, 55,937 people were waiting for their refugee claims to be determined, 90+% of which are from non-white countries.

People currently in Canada’s refugee protection system – who have faced war and persecution like Ukrainians, who were once asylum seekers taking great risks to get to Canada’s safe borders, who have struggled through the complexity of being a refugee claimant with its uncertainty and waiting – are seeking to make sense of their story and situation in light of what is being offered Ukrainians.

Protected persons in Canada waiting to be reunited with their families from overseas, Afghans promised refuge in Canada yet still not here, and people in refugee camps waiting for their sponsorship applications to be finalized may also be seeking clarity.

Action you can take: for every displaced Ukrainian you can and should support – whether you are providing housing or giving financial assistance – give equal or more support to a refugee claimant currently in Canada’s refugee protection system.  Donate Now

use the right language – displaced Ukrainians, or Ukrainian refugees?

March 22, 2022 by Loren Balisky

The harm inflicted on Ukraine by Russia is horrific. And it is deeply impacting Ukraine’s people who are fleeing for safety by the millions into neighbouring countries and beyond.

We need to do everything we can to help.

As we do, keep the following in mind, and take appropriate action.

Ukrainians: are they refugees? – use language carefully

If you listen closely to media reports, and in general conversation, you’ll hear the word “refugee” being used to describe Ukrainians crossing their border into nearby countries.

Indeed, everything about their situation is accurate to the definition of a refugee: someone who has fled their country and fears returning because their life is in danger.

Two factors muddle the use of the word refugee:

  1. inconsistent application based on emotion and perception (the term “refugee” is exploitable)
  2. complex, technical, legal processes that are used to determine if someone fits the definition and merits refugee protection.

Under international refugee law, with its roots in 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention), a person becomes a “Refugee” when either the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or the safe country they are in verifies their refugee status through an independent legal process. Getting “Convention Refugee” status is a powerful protection under international law.

A person may fit the definition of a refugee perfectly, but until they undergo the legal determination process and a decision is made, they don’t have refugee status and the rights that come with it.

The challenge with you and I determining refugee status is that we are fickle in our application of the term, often driven by our own emotions, which are often charged with deep biases and unconscious assumptions. At best, this can lead to a flood of goodwill and generosity. At worst: severe, unfair discrimination.

Perhaps one way to think of it is lowercase-r refugee and uppercase-R Refugee.

A person can be a refugee – having fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and having crossed an international border to find safety in another country. In this situation, this person is vulnerable to the gaze and prejudgements of those of us secure behind our borders and country identities.

This same person cannot become a Refugee – and get the protection and the rights that come with it – until they have gone through a legal determination process.

People who come to Canada believing themselves to be refugees and seeking safety are called “refugee claimants” as they pass through Canada’s legal refugee determination system.

It takes refugee claimants in Canada months, and sometimes years, to get Refugee status if they merit it. Convention Refugee or Protected Person is what they are called when their claim passes the legal test.  It is long journey, through a complex process.

For people who are seeking refugee protection, clarity of language is really important, both to set expectations, and to clarify legal protection rights. In Canada for example, a “refugee claimant” can’t leave the country (limited rights) but a Convention Refugee can get a special travel document (privileged rights) to travel internationally.

For our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, it is absolutely accurate to refer to them as refugees, but when we do, we should do so thoughtfully and carefully, remembering there are international laws pertaining to refugee protection, and that the use of the word refugee is vulnerable to exploitation.

Action you can take:

  1. be mindful of using the word “refugee” – use the term carefully, accurately, without exploiting it
  2. use “displaced Ukrainians” rather than “Ukrainian refugees” to be fair to other displaced people experiencing what Ukrainians are experiencing, but not being publicly perceived as refugees
  3. welcome and honour the dignity of everyone who is going through a displacement experience as though they are Refugees; advocate and support them, and do everything you can to ensure they access and engage a legal process that will fairly decide whether they merit refugee protection (don’t prejudge refugee status)
Mark Janousek

Ukrainian asylum seekers – how you can help at home

March 10, 2022 by Loren Balisky

How can you and I – when we are so far away – help those fleeing the war in Ukraine, seeking asylum in European countries?

The images and video footage of over 2 million Ukrainians crossing into Poland, Romania, and beyond these past two weeks are deeply troubling.

Personally, my eyes have welled up with tears many times watching the displacement unfold, young and old surviving a journey they never imagined they would be on, uncertain of where it is taking them. I feel their loss. I also feel anger. And I feel helpless.

I am half Ukrainian. Watching these distant unknown Ukrainian relatives on the move in search of safety casts a light on my ancestors’ undocumented journey over 100 years ago.

Since 1998, I’ve had the privilege to welcome hundreds of asylum seekers into the Kinbrace community. It is a liminal space, standing in the doorway of welcome, extending hospitality to a stranger whose story I don’t know, who is so at risk, so stressed.

Watching Ukrainian asylum seekers move west into Europe, I wonder: “Who is welcoming them? What doors are open to them?”

If the Kinbrace community was located in Europe, you and I would be on the front lines of their welcome.

Being in Canada, we may feel far away from the need.

That said, can I suggest we are not helpless?

Here are three suggestions for action, ways to show solidarity and ways to help in real-time.

The following actions build our own welcoming resilience in Canada. We become better equipped to help those crossing the Canadian border in need of protection. Asylum seekers arriving near you are as much in need of housing, a warm welcome, and refugee protection as are our Ukrainian brothers and sisters.

1. You can strengthen your knowledge and explore opportunities to provide much-needed affordable housing for refugee claimants arriving in Canada. Learn more at the recorded Finding Home: Transformative Places Where Refugee Claimants Flourish virtual event hosted on Tuesday 15 March 2022 at 7:00 PM Pacific. My colleague Mohammed Zaqout and I were privileged to participate in this story-filled presentation hosted by BC’s Multi Agency Partnership. No matter where you live, this BC focused event has information that is applicable everywhere – even in Europe.

2. You can build the resilience and expand the capacity of asylum seeker welcoming communities in your region by donating financial gifts and volunteering your time. Forcibly displaced people struggle immensely to find safe and affordable housing on their journey to protection. Your steadfast and generous support of communities like Kinbrace – like every other refugee claimant welcoming community – means more desperate people are welcomed with wrap-around supports. If you haven’t supported Ukrainian asylum seekers in Europe, you can help others on your own doorstep through Kinbrace. Donate monthly to guarantee a 24-7 welcome. Donate one-time to show solidarity. Displaced Ukrainians will not be arriving as refugee claimants – learn more here.

3. You can further inspire your already-caring heart and imagination with ways to amplify the warmest welcome possible among asylum seekers by joining conversation with others. It is as much a journey of the heart as it is the head and hands. If you haven’t had a chance to read Anika Bauman’s new book (which is already in its second printing), you can read the free online book here or learn more and buy your hardcopy here. Becoming Neighbours – Five Values for a World of Welcome tells a story of transformation where refugee claimants and their hosts flourish together.

Loren Balisky

Neighbours like these…..

December 30, 2021 by Loren Balisky

A few weeks before Christmas holidays, the kids of Kinbrace faced a problem: the backboard on their well-used basketball hoop broke, leaving them to improvise a game that was more frustrating than fun.
Then, an unexpected email arrived from Mark, a neighbour of the Kinbrace community:
“I have noticed that the Kinbrace basketball net is broken – there’s no longer a backboard. It breaks my heart to see the kids still trying to use the net despite the lack of a backboard.

Our family would like to buy a new complete basketball system for the kids to play with. I was thinking I would assemble it and take it over for Christmas morning if you’re ok with that?”

For those seeking refuge in Canada, neighbours like these – attentive and hospitable – may be their single greatest gift.
Mark and Dyan, with their almost-three-year-old son Finn, are immediate neighbours. In fact, Finn’s bedroom window overlooks the backyards of the two adjacent Kinbrace properties in east Vancouver.
 
“Finn likes to look out the window in his room which looks down onto the Kinbrace courtyard as there’s always lots of activity going on with all the kids,” says his dad, Mark.
Day after day, year after year, Mark and Dyan generously toss back over the fence the various-sized balls that (despite best intentions) inevitably sail into their property from enthusiastic games of soccer or basketball next door.
A general surgeon, Mark credits team sports for helping shape who he is today.

“Any opportunity to help kids become interested in a sport is not an opportunity to be missed,” says Mark.

Mark and Dyan’s dad assembled and brought over the wonderful new basketball system on Christmas Eve, just as the snow began to fall.

It’s a gift generations of Kinbrace kids will be transformed by.

On this 5th day of Christmas, here is a shoutout to the numerous neighbours near and far who welcome people seeking refugee protection.

Loren Balisky

Your Pandemic FAQs Answered

July 23, 2020 by Loren Balisky

These are the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about refugee claimants and the Kinbrace community amid the ongoing pandemic.  

The Canada-USA border is closed.  How is this affecting the number of people making claims for refugee protection in Canada?

The federal government closed the Canada-US border on 18 March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This created a significant barrier for those questing  through the USA toward Canada for protection.  Each year the majority of people who make refugee claims in Canada arrive overland via the Canada-US border.  With the border closed, fewer people are making refugee claims.

Source:  canada.ca

Are lower numbers of refugee claimants affecting Kinbrace’s work?

No. The pandemic hyper-exposes those who are already vulnerable, meaning there’s more risk for refugee claimants.  Government processing systems have been upended and are re-ordering, resulting in refugee claimants seeking information and support.

How has my support helped refugee claimants so far through the pandemic?

Within the Kinbrace community in East Vancouver, there’s a profound “family” feel, a closeness and intimacy.  This may stem from the shared pandemic experience, staying put together, and receiving your critical and timely support.  This expressed experience of belonging and connectedness amid forced displacement is profound.  Your invisible presence makes the community safe, vibrant, and trusting in the midst of uncertainty.

The quest for permanent housing remains important among Kinbrace residents, even though it abruptly stopped mid-March with lockdown and resulting uncertainty.  Three families recently moved into permanent homes, solidifying their experience of settlement and wellbeing. Their move creates vacancy in the Kinbrace transitional housing community, providing openings for those refugee claimants abiding in shelters across Metro Vancouver.  It’s your steadfast solidarity amid their chaos of finding home that brings stability.

Thousands of refugee claimants in BC and across the country have been waiting for refugee hearings to resume. Your support is adapting READY Tours in collaboration with the Canadian government so that each person waiting for their refugee hearing can learn and prepare appropriately.  If you’re interested in more detail, visit www.refugeeclaim.ca

I heard Kinbrace’s Tuesday community dinners have started again. Can I come?

Regrettably, no. While your presence is valued, guests/volunteers/neighbours/former residents are currently asked to not attend Tuesday community dinners (which resumed in June) as per guidelines from the health authorities.  Until further notice, community dinners are only for those living in the houses; currently, two staff members attend per week – at a distance – to help with cooking, set up, and clean-up.  

 

 

Mark Janousek

Tears, Home, and this Pandemic – #givingtuesdaynow

May 4, 2020 by Loren Balisky

My eyes well-up with tears when loss and unexpected love intermingle.  It’s happened several times to me during this pandemic.  Perhaps you’ve experienced the same.

Most recently for me, at last Tuesday’s weekly Kinbrace community meeting where residents hosted a Sending Circle (a time to remember and bless the person or family moving from Kinbrace).  This Sending Circle was for a senior couple who, after many, many years of forced displacement, finally received permanent, affordable housing.  They moved from Kinbrace to their new home on Friday.

There was laughter around the Sending Circle.  And there were tears.  Mine came when one of the single mothers began to speak her gratitude for “papa” and “mama” but then, putting her hands to her face, cried softly.  Her tears and the strong hugs she gave papa and mama spoke to me about that wordless space where loss and unexpected love mix.

Every family around the circle was only half there, beloved others scattered around the world by forced displacement.  COVID-19 severely amplifies the loss and fear people feel while separated from family.  And, yet, around this circle of unlikely, diverse, fractured families, the words “brother” “sister” “father “mother” were used numerous times. 

This vulnerable place, where loss and unexpected love can honestly be felt and expressed by people seeking refugee protection, is sustained by the wide network of donors and volunteers.  

The fact that “mama” and “papa” secured a safe and permanent home in the middle of this pandemic, is thanks to the persistence and expertise grounded Kinbrace’s champions.

If you’ve not had a chance to support this vulnerability and change, and would like to, you can start now.

You won't see the usual Kinbrace Tuesday dinner food preparation now, with COVID-19 . Photo credit: Loren Balisky

COVID-19 stops Tuesday dinners, but community thrives in a new way

April 7, 2020 by Loren Balisky

Suspending Tuesday dinners for COVID-19 in mid-March felt apocalyptic, the end of the world as we knew it.

Weekly meals in this community of welcome for people seeking refugee protection started in 1998 around our family dining table.  These meals immediately became the centre point of the week, a kind of sacred gathering of volunteers and guests with Kinbrace residents, former residents, neighbours, and staff.  From the beginning, we learned that sharing food brought the Kinbrace community together in a way nothing else could.

I deeply respect the courage new Kinbrace residents exhibit attending a Tuesday dinner.  There’s vulnerability in taking up the invitation of strangers.   In the first years living at Kinbrace, Tama and I observed an average of 6 weeks before a new resident would come to dinner.  Trust was a first ingredient.

For the first eight years of Kinbrace’s story, I did most of the cooking for Tuesday dinners.  When meal preparation and dining moved next door in 2005 with the acquisition of a new house, it created space for others to cook, and we started eating the wonder of the world:  tamales, njera ba wat, Aztec soup, ghormeh sabzi, bamia, dolma, kusheri……!

Delicious food and an open door have a way of gathering a crowd and, by 2011, we had a bit of problem on our hands with too many people attending Tuesday dinners.  With ever-increasing numbers, we observed a decrease in attendance by new Kinbrace residents.  The social connectedness and joyous noise of old-timers seemed to create barriers to belonging for the newest among us.

Concerned we were losing our way, Emily Parsons Dickau (Community Building Coordinator at the time) helped us in 2012 to reorient, rediscover, and proclaim the deep purpose of Tuesday dinners:  to welcome the newest residents living at Kinbrace.

We continue to learn that hospitality is at its best when it’s generously spacious and keenly focused.

While COVID-19 suspends Kinbrace community dinners, we decided to mark the traditional, sacred dinner space with Kinbrace residents meeting weekly in the late afternoon on Tuesdays, sitting in a wide circle in the back yard, for a facilitated check-in, telling stories of the week, expressing concerns or needs, and hearing from each other, voices and perspectives from seven countries representing four continents.

There’s a distinct strangeness being gathered with no food to share.  It’s simply not the normal Kinbrace experience.  Yet, the shared experience of sheltering in place against the COVID-19 plague seems an unexpected recipe that’s leading the community to an unusual familiarity and care for each other midst diversity and vulnerability.

Photo: Mark Janousek

Belonging starts here

January 21, 2020 by admin

By Anika Barlow, as published in the Vancouver Sun.

I live in East Vancouver just off Commercial Drive. My house looks like a nondescript “Vancouver Special” from the street, but it’s far from ordinary by our city’s standards. Over the past two years, I have shared my home with more than 50 people from over a dozen countries.

On Tuesdays, we cook and eat dinner together, and most other days we share tea in each others’ apartments or conversation in the backyard. While Vancouver suffers from a crisis of isolation, my own days unfold within a rich community. I live with refugee claimants.

Continue Reading →

Kinbrace

A Vision for the Future

May 9, 2019 by Derek Chu

A season of strategic visioning – a message from the Board of Directors

Thanks to you – whether you are one of Kinbrace’s visionary founders, a generous donor, a volunteer, a staff person, a person who has lived (or is living) the refugee experience, a neighbour, or elsewise connected – we have reached 21 years in our shared journey, striving to create a world of welcome, a life of opportunity, and a community of belonging for each person seeking refugee protection in Canada.

In March 2019, the Board initiated a season of strategic visioning, asking the question:  Where should Kinbrace go in the next 5-10 years?

First, an update on our senior leadership.  There have been a few communications to Kinbrace donors and supporters during the past year, advising of Loren Balisky’s future with the organization.  Among other communications, the Board of Directors announced at Kinbrace’s 20th Anniversary (June 2018) that Loren would be stepping down from the Executive Director role.

To prepare for this change, the Kinbrace Board retained a recruiter to help the organization hire a new Executive Director. After some deep listening, the recruiter advised the Board that Kinbrace wasn’t ready for a new Executive Director. With faith and courage, the Board stopped the recruitment process and discerned a different course, which included a decision to offer Loren a 9-month sabbatical leave, April-December 2019.

The Board has directed Loren to rest, refresh, and write during the sabbatical.  While Loren is away, a vibrant, dedicated staff team is in place and growing. Long-timer Emily Parsons Dickau (Director of Programs) and newly-hired Derek Chu (Director of Operations) will co-lead the organization, supported by the Board of Directors.  

If you are a volunteer, donor, or former resident, you will likely hear from and get to know new people joining the Kinbrace staff team.  Please welcome them if you get a chance, and let them know your heart for, and history of, welcoming people seeking refugee protection.

Meanwhile, the Board of Directors is creatively and diligently engaging staff, former Kinbrace residents and refugee claimants, donors, and others to envision Kinbrace’s future.  It is a season of dreaming, anticipating, and planning.

When your imagination intersects with the resilience of each person seeking refugee protection, the results are authentic and transformational.  I invite your continued support and input through this season of strategic visioning.

I’d like to Donate

I have a question or comment, please email: chairperson@kinbrace.ca

Thank you,

Chris Wiesinger

Chairperson

On behalf of the Kinbrace Board of Directors