The Halifax Refugee Clinic was recently profiled by the Presbyterian Record. Here is the write up, following which you can find the link to the original story.
It’s always nice to greet the new neighbour who moves in almost next door. When you are a church and it is an organization that has just moved in, it is a little harder. When that organization is the Halifax Refugee Clinic, all kinds of things are possible. For us at the Church of St. David, Halifax, all it took was a church member dropping in to say, “hi!” and “what is it exactly that you do here?” and the relationship was off and running.
When that church member is also part of the mission and outreach committee even more can happen. So at the next meeting of the M and O committee, Kathy asked the group, “Guess who I just met?” The committee was hooked!
It didn’t take long for an invitation to cross the street from the church to the clinic: “Come and visit and tell us more about yourself.” And a friendship was made!
That first meeting was an exchange; a time to learn and share and to understand one another. The Halifax Refugee Clinic is unlike most organizations that deal with people coming to Canada. The clients they serve are not government-sponsored folk who simply need to navigate ‘the system’ and find themselves a new home. The clinic does not receive government money, and relies on benefactors and individuals. These folk fall between the cracks in the system and often arrive with no place to stay, no sponsors, no contacts and a whole lot of fear that they won’t be allowed to stay.
The clinic provides legal and settlement services and the everyday kind of help people from around the world need in a new country. The people they serve meet the criteria for a refugee because they have “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion” and are “living outside their country of origin and, because of fear, are unable or unwilling to return.”
And getting to Canada is only part of the solution. “Canada’s refugee system is broken, with unacceptably long delays to determine whether someone is a legitimate refugee,” according to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
How can we be good neighbours to such a clinic? The mission and outreach folk are a creative bunch so they began with information – let’s tell people about this place! And then, are there practical ways to be neighbours? Let’s do what Presbyterians do best. Let’s have a potluck and offer financial assistance to a group that doesn’t get government backing. A quick soup after service raised well over $500 to be used for the contingency funds of the groups – two women and a four-year-old had just arrived from southern Africa and needed everything to survive the late January blast of icy air that had descended on the city.
The cheque presented to the clinic will not last long but it will make a difference. When Shelley MacDonald-Parsons, convener of the mission committee, and I went to the clinic to present the cheque, we heard of other ways the church could get involved in the life of the clinic, and how clients of the clinic could get involved in the life of the congregation.
St. David’s doors are open to street people and volunteers are always needed. Clients of the clinic can’t seek out employment while their cases are being heard so any opportunity to engage in the life of the city is welcome. The opportunity to volunteer is one of the few things open to them; therefore, volunteering at the church was a great idea. Likewise, congregation members were warmly welcomed to the workshops and information evenings hosted by the clinic. The relationship is already growing.
Leaving the clinic, Shelley and I had the opportunity to talk with one of the people from Botswana: “We’d like to introduce ourselves…” And another contact and another relationship has the potential to be born!
Rev. Kenneth Stright is minister at the Church of St. David, Halifax.