Gay and lesbian organizations should “step up to the plate” and privately sponsor the resettlement in Canada of refugees persecuted in their homeland because of their sexual orientation, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says.
Mr. Kenney said on Tuesday he will make a point of appealing to the gay and lesbian community as he travels the country this summer to try to get more groups involved in private sponsorship of refugees who are stuck in UN camps or urban slums.
“Today, I’m putting out a call to people of good faith, people of good conscience, compassionate Canadians to step up to the plate and help us to provide a new and secure beginning for thousands of Iraqi victims of persecution and violence, as well as [for] others around the world,” he told a news conference.
“It would be a great thing for the gay community to get behind. It’s one thing to issue a press release about the deplorable treatment of gays in Iran. But it would be so much meaningful to actually help some of those people who have had to flee.”
Starting next year, the government has set a target of resettling 2,000 more refugees a year under the private sponsorship program than it has in the past. The government will sponsor an additional 500, raising the 2011 resettlement target to 14,000.
Churches and faith-based groups account for the bulk of private sponsorships. Under the program, the sponsorship groups are responsible for raising the money needed to house, feed and clothe the refugees and also for helping them navigate the health, education and employment systems.
Gay activists said later they are already very involved in trying to save and improve the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender (LGBT) individuals who are trapped in Turkey, Iran and other countries where they are being persecuted. They also say they help to acclimatize them to Canada once they are here.
“We’re not organized in the way that churches would be,” said Helen Kennedy, executive director of EGALE, a national gay rights group.
“But we do this kind of work already. We are well-connected to LGBT organizations around the world. We know when people are in crisis and need to escape countries.”
Asked specifically if she could envision LGBT groups sponsoring refugees the way that churches do, she said, “In theory, absolutely.”
But LGBT groups are not as “flush” with cash as the churches, and Mr. Kenney needs to provide more government resettlement assistance.
“Anything Mr. Kenney can do to help, I am totally willing to sit down with him and chat about it.”
In the meantime, she said, many LGBT individuals are members of groups that have sponsored refugees.
The Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, which was founded by gays and lesbians, has sponsored refugees in the past and will likely do so again, said Robert Dykeman, the church administrator.