TORONTO, June 1, 2019 /CNW/ - The Rainbow Refugee Society and partner organizations in the Rainbow Coalition for Refuge are commending the federal government's commitment to launch an expanded Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program (RRAP) which helps support refugees fleeing persecution because of their sexuality orientation or gender identity expression (SOGIE).
"Thank you, Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister Hussen and Randy Boissonnault (the PM's special advisor on LGBTQ+ issues) for making the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Pilot a regular program with an expanded budget and a five-year funding commitment," says Rainbow Refugee Board Chair Sharalyn Jordan.
The Federal government's contribution of three months of support goes directly to refugees and is a tangible expression of the government's commitment to protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ+) lives. Since it was first piloted in 2011, the initiative has engaged LGBTQ+ Canadians and allies in over 25 cities across Canada in welcoming refugees.
Sponsorship circles raised over $1.6 million in 2018-19, to match more than 3:1 the federal government's contribution. Hundreds of volunteers organize the critical social support to help LGBTQ+ refugees survive while they wait for resettlement, and create a welcoming, supportive community for each arrival.
"The need is huge," says Rainbow Refugee founder, Chris Morrissey. "We receive thousands of desperate pleas every year and we can only help a fraction of them. This commitment from the government will allow us to expand the program and build systems that will allow for long-term sustainability."
LGBTQ+ refugees face distinct barriers and vulnerabilities to accessing protection as well as a heightened risk of violence in transit countries.
The Rainbow RAP creates safer pathways for vulnerable LGBTQ+ refugees, including Afghanis in Pakistan, Ugandans in Kenya, and Iraqis in Turkey. The program also uniquely enables resettlement for people forcibly displaced by SOGIE persecution, but unable to access UNHCR protection, such as Chechens in Russia and refugees on Manus Island.
Globally, anti-LGBTQ+ hostility is on the rise. According to the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), there are still 70 countries where being LGBTQ+ is a crime, and 11 where individuals can face the death penalty.
Along with Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad, Rainbow Refugee co-leads the Rainbow Coalition for Refuge (RC4R) in Canadian communities that have proven ready, willing and able to support refugees facing SOGIE persecution. Members include Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, Capital Rainbow Refuge in Ottawa, the Rainbow Refugee Association of NS, and the End of the Rainbow Foundation in Calgary.
"This announcement is a great of example of how the federal government can work with civil society to protect LGBTQ+ refugees in Canada. It is one of several recommendations our coalition has made. There is more work to be done, but this is a significant milestone," says Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad.
This change implements a unanimous all-party Commons Committee recommendation following public hearings that produced the 2017 report "LGBTQ+ at risk abroad: Canada's Call to Action."
"Expanding the RRAP delivers on Canada's commitment to be a place of safety for LGBTQ+ refugees at a time when violence is on the rise," says Jordan. "Sponsorship is one component of a broader strategy. We also need the government to continue working with LGBTQ+ civil society to develop a proactive response for crisis situations and ensure that the Inland refugee process is accessible and fair."
"LGBTQ+ civil society is proud to work with IRCC and Global Affairs to make Canada a global leader in LGBTQ+ refugee and human rights protection. The announcement today gives us a seat at the table, and that is so critical to our work going forward," Jordan adds. "We want to express our respect and appreciation for this spirit of non-partisanship when lives are at stake."
"As a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH), we celebrate the federal government's strong commitment to stand for the rights of LGBTQ+ refugees to live a life free from oppression, discrimination and violence. We look forward to continuing and expanding the good work."
Aleks Dughman-Manzur, the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto.
"It is important that we are able to engage Canadian LGBTQ+ communities in settling these vulnerable refugees, many of whom have faced torture and threats to their lives based on sexual and gender minority persecution. Our communities appreciate the multi year commitment because it takes time to raise funds to sponsor."
Lisa Hébert, Capital Rainbow Refuge in Ottawa
"RRANS applauds the government's multi-year commitment to support vulnerable LGBTQ+ refugees. We know there is more work to be done but this announcement means we can enhance our sponsorship capacity."
Corrie Melanson, Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia
Members of the Rainbow Coalition for Refuge (RC4R) steering committee
SOURCE Rainbow Railroad
For further information: Contacts: Sharalyn Jordan, Board Chair, Rainbow Refugee, [email protected], (778) 881-2915; Andrea Houston, Communications and Development Officer, Rainbow Railroad, [email protected], (647) 210-4655