Diocese of Ontario Refugee Support (DOORS)

Refugee sponsorship

Diocese of Ontario Refugee Support (DOORS) focuses on the sponsorship of refugees as well as advocating for refugees. The Diocese has been actively involved in Refugee sponsorship, and has been a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) with Citizenship and Immigration Canada for more than 20 years.

Who is a refugee?

Throughout history, groups of people have fled their home countries because of persecution and sought protection in a foreign country. Refugees are persons whose lives have been seriously affected by war, oppression, persecution and abuses of basic human rights and are now living outside their country of origin.

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There are other reasons why people leave their homes. Some people are displaced due to environmental disasters. Others are migrant workers who work outside their homelands. These people are migrants but are not considered refugees.

Our government helps a set number of refugees come to Canada each year. Canadians increase this number by privately sponsoring refugees through Sponsorship Agreement Holders like The Diocese of Ontario.

Kitwana’s Story

Kitwana Shiara, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa shares the story of his journey. Kitwana spent 7 years in Uganda waiting to come to Canada to join other family members in Napanee, Ontario. Kitwana was sponsored by a committee at St. Mary Magdalene through the Diocese of Ontario Refugee Support program. For information on how you can offer a refugee a new life in Canada contact doorsref@gmail.com.

Sponsoring refugees

The Canadian Immigration Act of 1976 established refugees as a class distinct from immigrants. Since then Canada has offered resettlement to thousands of government assisted refugees. Canada is also the only country that allows for the private sponsorship of refugees through Sponsorship Agreement Holders, helping our country to sponsor an additional number of refugees above the government numbers. Private sponsorship does not rely on public resources, but rather taps the energy and funds of faith communities, ethnic groups, families and other benevolent associations. Private sponsors offer personalized local support that the government is not able to provide.

What does sponsorship involve?

Sponsorship is a one-year commitment to support refugees as they adjust to life in Canada. You will provide or help them access:

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Health care
  • Education for children
  • Job and language training
  • Employment

Your congregation will provide friendship, teach about life in Canada, and learn about the newcomers’ culture, values and religious beliefs.

Financial commitments

Full private sponsorship – The Constituent Group (CG), based in a parish or a community, provides both the finances and the settlement support for the full 12 months after arrival.

If the refugee has not yet been assigned to resettlement in Canada via the visa office abroad, they need to undergo the refugee determination process abroad. The refugee applicant fills out application forms and the CG fills out an undertaking, which is then submitted to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) for processing.

Family-linked – Relatives in Canada provide the settlement funds for the full sponsorship year, and the CG provides in-kind settlement support. Process is same as full sponsorship.

The timeline for these sponsorships can vary from eight months to several years, depending on where the family is from and how much of a backlog there is at the visa post.

Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) – A cost-sharing program with the Canadian government, which provides six months of settlement funds, with the CG providing the other six months, plus settlement support for the whole year.

BVOR cases are on a list provided by the CIC Matching Centre. Requests for BVORs can be made through your coordinator (see contact information at the end).

If BVOR cases are “travel ready,” meaning they have had their medicals and obtained their visas, they can arrive in Canada within a month. Otherwise they might come within 2-4 months.

First Steps

Q. I would like to sponsor refugees. What are the first steps?

A. The first step is to bring together a group of 5-10 individuals who have a strong commitment to refugee settlement and who can commit the time and the funds to welcome and support them for a minimum of 12 months. It’s important to remember that refugees will require daytime appointments so when you make up your constituent group, try to include members who will be free during the day to assist with some of these appointments. Once you have a core of the group in place, DOORS will meet with the group to explore next steps.

Q. Is there a comprehensive guide to welcoming and settling refugees?

A. An excellent, practical, step by step handbook can be found at the Refugee Settlement Training site: http://www.rstp.ca/en/resources/hand-book-for-sponsoring-groups. You’ll find some telephone numbers if you require additional information. Feel free to contact DOORS if you have any questions that aren’t answered by this material.

Q. How will my group be matched with a refugee to sponsor?

A. The Diocese of Ontario is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder with the federal government. This means that the Diocese through the DOORS team can request on behalf of its sponsorship groups, called Constituent Groups (CGs), a match with refugees from abroad. There are two basic ways that this match is made: 1) refugee referred by a visa office abroad; 2) a sponsor referral. See Chapter 3 of the handbook for a fuller explanation.

Q. Will the sponsorship group be asked to sign a contract to guarantee support for 12 months?

A. Yes: each constituent group will be asked to sign a contract that lays out the responsibilities of the constituent group. This is a legal contract between the group and the Diocese of Ontario (as the Sponsorship Agreement Holder with the federal government). The group will also be asked to fill out a settlement plan that outlines specific ways in which the group will support and settle newcomers. Someone from the DOORS committee will meet with you and provide help with drafting this settlement plan.

Q. We haven’t received an arrival date yet for the refugees whom we have sponsored? Should we find and rent accommodation in advance for them so that everything will be ready for their arrival?

A. It is best to wait for the refugees to arrive before you sign a lease and start paying for rental accommodation. Arrival dates are impossible to predict. It is best to avoid a situation in which your group pays for rent for months before the arrival of a family. You can estimate the processing time on this website: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/information/times/index.asp

Q. What kind of temporary accommodation is available if we don’t rent an apartment in advance?

A. A Sponsorship groups in many cases have provided temporary accommodation in their own homes. This has the advantage of providing a warm welcome and excellent support for the first few days or weeks. In most cases, newcomers will want the privacy of their own place as soon as you are able to provide that but in the short time, welcoming guests (depending on family size) can be an excellent introduction to life in Canada and give you an opportunity to get to know the newcomers whom you have sponsored. If this isn’t possible in your sponsorship group or if the family group is too large, reach out to the wider community. Immigration Services Kingston and Area (ISKA) provides wonderful support to sponsors on many questions, including finding accommodation.


Q. How much money should the sponsorship group budget for refugee support?

A. Most sponsorship groups aim to align their monthly monetary support with the amount of money that the individuals/family would receive from government Social Assistance benefits. It is vital that this monthly support is not the only support that the family receives. The family should not be expected to furnish their new home from their monthly stipend. In kind donations and services are needed to set up the family; for example, furniture donations, and a trip to the grocery store to stock the kitchen with basic ingredients. Most groups also pay for expenses like driving license testing. Depending on whether warm clothing is given at the point of entry, it is important to equip newcomers with warm and comfortable clothing. Again, in-kind donations are useful, as well as coupons provided by the Salvation Army and other sources. ISKA provides information about these and other resources.

Q. Should we encourage refugees to work in the first year?

A. The top priority in the first 12 months should be language acquisition for any newcomers who don’t have high proficiency in English. Volunteering can be an excellent way to gain experience during this period. Part-time work that does not conflict with English classes is an option but care should be taken to investigate the implications for government funding if earnings go beyond a threshold outlined in the newcomer’s notice of settlement support.

Q. Should our group cover the costs of the airfare?

A. The federal government for a short time covered the cost of air travel for refugees from Syria (up until March 2016 when the quota of 25,000 refugees from Syria was reached); however, refugees from all regions are now required to pay the airfare. Refugees in the past were always required to pay their own airfare so this is not a new policy. The federal government provides transportation loans. In the interests of equity and to remove the debt burden of the transportation loans, sponsors are strongly encouraged to cover the cost of the flights.

Support and Settlement

Q. Will the DOORS team help with day to day support of refugees whom we have sponsored?

A. The day-to-day support of the newcomers is the responsibility of the sponsorship group, with help from many local services and organizations. DOORS team can provide advice but isn’t able to help with daily responsibilities, such as drives to the dentist or other medical appointments.

Q. Are there local groups or organizations in Kingston that can help sponsors and refugees/newcomers?

A. Kingston and area has excellent resources to support sponsorship groups and refugees. The most valuable and comprehensive support is Immigration Services for Kingston and Area (ISKA). ISKA provides a one-stop solution to the primary health care and settlement needs of refugees. Contact ISKA at 613.544.4661 or settlement office Gaitree Orgah gaitreeo@kchc.ca. One of the first visits that you can make with newly arrived refugees is to ISKA to meet with settlement officers there. For example, here newcomers will be evaluated for placement in language class. There are also offices in Belleville for the Quinte region and in Brockville for the Leeds-Grenville area.

Kingston and area Employment Services or KEYS: Staff in the five KEYS office in our area will help newcomers write resumes that can be used for volunteer or employment opportunities, connect newcomers with employers, facilitate training and education, and facilitate funding for credentials and apprenticeship.

United Way: United Way provides some funding for refugees, including dental, and provides volunteers to assist. The website has links to application forms. ISKA currently connects sponsors with United Way volunteers: contact ISKA for this service.

Q. How will newcomers travel within Kingston and area? Will they be expected to travel on their own? Do they have access to subsidized buses?

A. In the first weeks and perhaps months, accompanying newcomers to appointments is an important responsibility of the sponsors. This will provide much needed support. Refugees and newcomers are also eligible for “affordable transit passes”. Once newcomers are more comfortable and acquire greater ease in navigating the bus and their new area, it is not as important to accompany them to all appointments.

Q. How can we find help with translation?

A. This depends on why you need the translation. If for general conversational and organizing purposes, ISKA has translators who can assist. ISKA can also send off official documents (driving licenses, e.g.) for translation for a modest fee.

For appointments that require confidentiality and professionalism, you can access Central Eastern Ontario Translation and Interpretation Services CEOTIS 1-888-968-1065.

ceotis@quinteimmigration.ca. CEOTIS provides face to face interpretation ($55/hr with 2 hr minimum and additional travel costs) or telephone interpretation ($55/hr, with a 1 hr minimum). They also provide translation services. The Kingston hospitals have a contract for a telephone translation service based in California which does not require pre-booking.

Health Care providers should provide newcomers with translation, often through telephone translation. Indicate this need when the appointment is made.

For French translation, see the local Francophone employment organization that provides services to French speaking newcomers: ACFOMI http://acfomi.ca/en/.

Q. Is it possible to find subsidized accommodation in Kingston for refugees?

A. Yes, many local property managers have provided discounted rent for newcomers for the first year. ISKA is an excellent resource for help with finding housing.

Q. Our sponsorship group is quite small and we need extra help from more volunteers. How do we find additional help in Kingston and area to support our work?

A. ISKA manages a list of individuals who have volunteered via United Way to help with refugee settlement. They will send out an email on your behalf to this list of volunteers. Keep in mind that this list contains volunteers who may not have received Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) check. It is important that all volunteers working with vulnerable sectors, including refugees, receive a CPIC check. CPIC checks can be easily and quickly obtained at the Kingston Police Station, 705 Division Street.

Q. How long are the sponsors expected to take a very active role in the day to day life of the family (visiting the family daily, driving them to appointments and activities, or providing childcare)?

A. Frequent and extensive support is very important in the very early weeks and months of settlement but the extent of sponsor involvement should lighten or diminish as the months go on. From the beginning of the sponsorship, it is important to encourage independence and to respect the autonomy and agency of the newcomers. It can be challenging to get the balance right, and it is important for sponsors and the newcomers to communicate with each other about expectations. The RTSP handbook says one of the primary goals of sponsors is to “Help Newcomers Work Towards Self-Sufficiency: The core of self-sufficiency is that people are able to make their own plans and decisions in order to attain their own dreams. When a group sponsors refugees, this can be a delicate balance to maintain. Out of a desire to help, groups may do for rather than do with newcomers, reducing the newcomers’ learning opportunities—and eventually, their chances to survive independently in Canada. Independence does not imply that the refugee will sever ties with your group (though this possibility must also be allowed for). You may remain life-long friends, but your help should always be given with the goal of self-sufficiency.”

Health and Wellness

Q. What health coverage do refugees receive?

A. Refugees and newcomers to Canada are guaranteed comprehensive health coverage for one year from the point of their arrival under the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP). See All about Medical Coverage for a comprehensive overview of the IFHP. Newcomers in Kingston and surrounding area are seen by a wide variety of health providers, some of whom offer service in a variety of languages. Check with ISKA if you’d like more specific information about dentists and physicians.

Q. Do refugees require a OHIP card?

A. Yes, a priority in the first weeks after arrival is a visit to an Ontario Service office to apply for a OHIP card. You will need to bring the Confirmation of Permanent Residence (IMM5292 or IMM 5688) as well as proof of address. If you use a temporary accommodation address, remember to change this to the permanent address once accommodation has been found.

Q. Are Counselling Services available in Kingston and area?

A. Clinical Counselling Service in Arabic through LASSA Lebanese and Arab Social Services Agency provide clinical counselling in person in Ottawa or online through Skype. 613-236-0003 or 613-236-3111 X 224.

Q. How do we know which pharmacists and dentists in Kingston and area are registered to provide services to refugees under the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP)?

A. Contact Medavie Blue Cross for providers in your area https://provider.medavie.bluecross.ca or check with ISKA for the current list. Many local dentists are willing to provide dental care at reduced cost for newcomers.

Q. How can we help connect refugees/newcomers with community or social groups to reduce isolation?

A. It’s important to connect newcomers with a community beyond the sponsorship group. There are fantastic opportunities for this in Kingston and area. Contact ISKA for current programs and groups.

Q. What forms of recreation exist for newcomers?

A. Sponsors are encouraged to provide opportunities for recreation for newcomers: visiting, outings, recreational and social events, and engaging in their local community. This may entail going on a hike together, or strolling through the market, or arranging a trip to Sandbanks or apple picking in the autumn. ISKA provides opportunities for newcomer recreation as well.

Q. How do we find translators for medical appointments?

A. Translation is provided for hospital appointments at Hotel Dieu and Kingston General Hospital. The hospitals have a contract for a telephone translation service based in California. Indicate the need for the translation service when the appointment is made. Health clinics, on the other hand, are not required to offer translation services. For appointments that require confidentiality and professionalism, you can access Central Eastern Ontario Translation and Interpretation Services CEOTIS 1-888-968-1065 ceotis@quinteimmigration.ca. CEOTIS provides face to face interpretation ($55/hr with 2 hr minimum and additional travel costs) or telephone interpretation ($55/hr, with a 1 hr minimum). Newcomers have also asked friends and acquaintances with language proficiency to translate in medical appointments that are more routine in nature. Some sponsors and newcomers have chosen to use health clinics in which multi lingual medical treatment is sometimes available; for example, Kingston Community Health Center or the Refugee Health Initiative in the Queen’s Family Practice team. Check with ISKA for up-to-date information about medical clinics that offer multi-lingual services.

How to begin

  • Contact DOORS. We’ll help your congregation set up a sponsorship committee and review refugee profiles.
  • Work with DOORS to complete paperwork and communicate with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).
  • Begin fundraising and make a settlement plan, designating tasks among committee members.
  • DOORS will provide logistical support to your committee throughout the application and sponsorship process.


So you want to sponsor a refugee – quick guide
Refugee support team questionnaire


For more information, questions and to begin your refugee committee’s sponsorship today contact:

Anglican Parishes and other groups
Mangaza Merrill, Refugee Settlement Co-ordinator
Diocese of Ontario Refugee Support (DOORS)

Roman Catholic Parishes
Nadia Gundert, Youth Coordinator, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kingston