Brent Loubert

You may be aware that there are eight countries that have the death penalty for blasphemy (and numerous countries where apostasy is punishable by death). A group of Calgarians decided to do something about this by sponsoring someone who left their faith in Pakistan and has subsequently been charged with blasphemy by Pakistani authorities as well as received death threats from vigilante groups. From previous newsletters you will know of him as Omer (whose real identity and exact location in Nepal are hidden because he is still in hiding in fear for his life).

When the Calgary group researched options for sponsoring a refugee, they discovered that any group of private citizens in Canada can sponsor a refugee through a government program called Groups of Five. Details of this program are here and here.

In summary:

• Minimum of five adults living in the same community
• Can only sponsor applicants who have proof that they have been recognized as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or by a foreign state
• Sponsors must also prove that they have the necessary financial and human resources, expertise, and commitment required to fulfill the terms of the sponsorship once the applicant arrives in Canada (which is usually 12 months from the date of arrival or until the sponsored refugees have become self-sufficient, whichever comes first)
• Sponsors should be aware that the application process can be complex and time consuming, and the waiting period after approval could be long, depending on where the applicant is located.

The Calgary sponsorship group found an excellent resource in the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP). A special thanks goes out to Anoush Newman from the Calgary RSTP office, who — in addition to running (pre-COVID) in-person workshops — provided guidance and professional feedback throughout the application process. If there is no local RSTP office in your area, or pandemic restrictions have curtailed in-person activities, they now offer excellent online training.

As mentioned above, the application process can be complex and time consuming. The commitment to have funds reserved in advance of when the refugee arrives in Canada may also appear daunting (approximately $16,500 CAD for one refugee, $24,800 CAD for two, and ~$2,500 CAD for each dependent). The Calgary sponsorship group has received significant financial support from organizations such as CFIC, CFI U.S., Atheist Alliance International (AAI), private donors, and local fund-raising activities. Also, some of the funds were “in kind” donations, thereby eliminating any personal financial commitment for the five individuals in the sponsorship group.

In addition to the online resources previously mentioned, please feel free to contact the Calgary sponsorship group through the Atheist Society of Calgary (ASC) Refugee Sponsorship Committee with any inquiries or potential support for your own sponsorship initiative. Please also consider donating to Omer’s ongoing day-to-day support to help him survive the financial and emotional stress of the long and pandemic-delayed application process. This meets a critical need and can be one way you can individually support a refugee in a life-threatening situation.