With shifting refugee crises around the world, the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council has had to rely on faith more than ever this year.
So far, it’s not been forsaken by Manitobans, Canadians and donors from around the world, board members heard at its annual general meeting Thursday.
The council, which runs Manitoba’s largest refugee resettlement agency, Welcome Place, has had its faith and its mettle tested several times in the past fiscal year. When hundreds of Syrian refugees arrived on short notice last year, the agency was put on the spot.
"We had to mobilize quickly," chairwoman Ruth Magnuson said.
Staff stepped up. They received increased funding from both levels of government and an outpouring of donations from Manitobans.
After a year of resettling the Syrian newcomers, in addition to all the "regular" government-assisted refugees arriving, the organization faced a new situation with asylum-seekers crossing the U.S. border on foot and no one to help them, Magnuson said.
Board members of the non-profit group that is already operating close to the bone wondered how they could help refugee claimants when governments won’t fund services provided to them. They decided to dig into their lines of credit if they had to, Magnuson said.
"How can you say no to someone who is cold, hungry, hurting and desperate?"
Welcome Place sent staff to transport refugee claimants who’d been picked up by RCMP and processed and screened by Canada Border Services Agency.
They provide temporary housing to claimants with help from the provincial government. The United Way and the Winnipeg Foundation supported Welcome Place’s in-Canada protection services that help refugee claimants fill out paperwork and navigate the bureaucracy.
The perilous journey of asylum seekers crossing the Canada-U.S. border in winter made international news, and prompted donors around the world to open their hearts to the refugee claimants and their wallets to Welcome Place. In fiscal 2016, its donations more than doubled to $215,560, compared with $105,625 in 2015, its annual report shows.
"There was a global response," Magnuson said. The charity that once relied almost entirely on government funding by providing services to government-assisted refugees no longer feels bound by it.
"We learned from the Syrian response that we can act quickly," Magnuson said.
"We have staff willing to go above and beyond and fundraising taught us we have the ability to raise additional funds. We can go out into our community and ask for money," she said before accepting a donation cheque from Qualico real estate company.
The recent surge in refugee claimants is slowing and Welcome Place faces a dramatic decrease in the number of government-assisted refugees arriving this year — and the council is left feeling confident it can respond to provide whatever help is needed.
"Our role is we deal with what happens," board member Bruce Waite said. "We need to have our ear to the ground."