United Way Winnipeg and community partners today announced the launch of www.HelpRefugees.ca during an update on the urgent need for help with a recent surge of refugee claimants coming to Winnipeg.
For the past two weeks, United Way volunteers have been talking with community partners and agencies to better understand the challenges created by a rapidly growing number of refugee claimants, and ways to involve and connect Winnipeggers wanting to help.
“The number of people arriving is unprecedented given the cold weather,” said Abdi Ahmed, Coordinator for Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, one of several groups coordinating a community-wide response.
“We expect we will see more families arrive once the weather warms. That’s why it’s so important to come together as a community to share insights and experience and to coordinate resources – now more than ever,” Ahmed said.
“United Way donors already provide ongoing stability for 23 community agencies that support newcomer and refugee families,” said Connie Walker, CEO of United Way Winnipeg.
“That support has made it possible for these agencies to help as many people as they do every day and every year. But the reality today is that an influx of refugee claimants has overwhelmed these agencies and that should concern everyone,” she said.
“We realized what was missing was an easy way for people to help,” Walker added. “We also saw a need to coordinate donations of all kinds.”
HelpRefugees.ca provides a central site to donate money with confidence, knowing United Way will work closely with community partners to ensure every dollar of their donation goes where it’s needed most and will make the biggest difference.
“There are other ways to help as well,” said Dr. Jodene Baker, long-time United Way volunteer, donor, and Chair of United Way’s Community Investment Committee. “People and organizations interested in collecting and donating things like food, clothing, personal care items and feminine hygiene products can visit UnitedWayWinnipeg.ca for an up-to-date list of the most needed items and information on other ways to get involved, including volunteering,” Baker added.
“Needs are changing by the day, and by coordinating this information, we can help people understand the most current needs to ensure they are able to make the biggest difference while minimizing efforts that could be counter-productive,” said Baker.
In recent years, community agencies at the front lines of caring for newcomers have been asking for more help to support a growing number of refugee and immigrant families coming to Winnipeg – an estimated 3,000 in 2016 alone; twice the number of previous years.
United Way acknowledges that while this is a complicated issue with differing opinions on how to approach it as a city, province and country, the response is driven only by the fact there is a real and urgent human need in our city, and there are people and organizations that stand ready to help.
“This is not about prioritizing one need in our community over another,” said Baker. “No one, including community agencies, is putting one group ahead of another. As always they are finding a way to do more and go further, but there’s only so far they can go without breaking. This is about mobilizing our compassion and humanity to go further as a community to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
The Province of Manitoba shared that sentiment. “Manitoba has a proud history of welcoming newcomers to our province and a well-deserved reputation within Canada for our willingness to help those in need,” said Education and Training Minister Ian Wishart.
“On behalf of all Manitobans, our government thanks the United Way of Winnipeg for leading this community effort. The generous and compassionate response we continue to see from the entire province — including front-line workers, volunteers and organizations providing direct services to refugees and refugee claimants — is testament to our shared values as Manitobans.”
Walker closed the program by emphasizing, “Today in Winnipeg there are families who are scared and alone; strangers in a new country. Together, we can welcome these families and surround them with love, understanding and hope as they start their journey to build a better life for themselves.”
Sitti Ali, a refugee claimant from Djibouti, knows the desperate situations refugees face, and how hope for a better life sustains them as they embark on uncertain and dangerous journeys to reach Manitoba.
“We are grateful that we’ve been welcomed by Winnipeggers. It’s made such a difference for us and now we are helping other newcomers feel welcome,” Ali said.
“The first 30 days are the most critical,” said Ahmed. “After that, those who receive a refugee hearing can apply for work permits and get help to become more independent.”