“No one gets left behind. No one is left out. All are treated with dignity and respect."

— Joseph Gosnell, CC OBC, Laxts’imilx Laxsgiik, Nisga'a Nation


Vancouver Mayor holds town hall meeting to discuss mounting Syrian refugee crisis

Last week the disturbing image of 3-year old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi’s drowned body trended the globe, leading Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson to hold a town hall meeting to discuss the situation and share information. The event led to a huge outpouring from the community as City Hall flooded with concerned citizens.

Robertson acknowledged steps already underway by the City of Vancouver, including the construction of a 136-bed Welcome House. The facility is currently under construction and will be run by Immigrant Services Society (ISS) of B.C., a local non-profit that assists newcomers with resettlement needs. He also highlighted the work undertaken to establish Vancouver as a Sanctuary City. Sanctuary City is a movement to provide newly settled migrants with access to services without fear, which the mayor claimed to be an important piece the City has been working on along with a number of cities around the world.

In a rare show of advocacy, the mayor called on the federal government to bring in 20,000 refugees by 2020, which would double the number of Syrians the Government of Canada has promised to accept in the coming term, should it be re-elected.

Chris Friesen, Director for ISS B.C., shared some statistics on the situation and Canada’s role to date.

“There is no cap on privately sponsored Syrian individuals in Canada.” Friesen noted that Canada is the only country that provides interest-bearing transportation loans from $15 M allotted annually, 91% of which are repaid by the resettled migrants.”

B.C.’s resettlement target is for 800 refugees per year and Canada has committed to bringing in 10,000 over three years, both as government assisted and private sponsorships. Still, Friesen explained that this number is far lower than what the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) requested, further elaborating that the largest number of resettlement needs actually comes from Africa, not the Middle East.

Eyob Naizghi was a key speaker who shared his migration experience when he came to Canada 35 years ago from Africa. As a UBC-sponsored refugee through the World University Service of Canada, Naizghi has since become Executive Director at MOSAIC, an immigrant and refugee services organization.

Naizghi noted that the refugee crisis is much more than a Syrian crisis. Aylan Kurdi’s image inspired so many people, but while leading western democracies like Sweden and Germany are opening up doors to refugees, other countries are not. Meanwhile, little to no effort has been undertaken in other parts of the Middle East by wealthy oil-rich Arab states.

“History will judge our actions. There are 4.1-5 M Syrian refugees and displaced persons, but there are 60 M worldwide.”

As a refugee, Naizghi recounted walking with others for four weeks, including extended periods without water, but with the common desire to escape. He recounted living in a refugee camp for two months outside of Sudan, which was highly dependent on humanitarian aid from the UNHCR.

“We mustn’t confuse the experiences of immigrants and refugees. Refugees don’t make decisions or plan their trips. They are forced to move with very little resources and information and with little to no preparation; often with nothing on their backs. Imagine the amount of isolation and the build up of trauma.”

As Naizghi put it, many in the North have become desensitized, but a strong level of resilience can be seen in refugees. Historically, Canada has demonstrated compassion. He particularly noted Canada’s responses to crises including the Vietnamese boat people and Kosovo refugees.

“We step up to the plate when action is required. Today we have the experience and organizations that are ready to support. We also have a large group of sponsors, whether church groups, ethnospecific groups, or otherwise.” But in human terms, Naizghi feels as though there is currently a lack of political willingness on the ground.

“20,000 compared to 60 M is a drop in the ocean. What we are doing compared to Germany is a drop in the ocean. We need to change the application process time. It is taking too long and this is not acceptable. We have the means to support them and we should be bringing them now.”

The B.C. government has acknowledged it will give $1 M in support of this initiative. On the ground, there are three immediate things you can do:

1) Donate: be creative in your fundraising activities. Consider donations in lieu of gifts for celebratory events;
2) Volunteer: get involved with local organizations that are already doing the work on the grond; and
3) Sponsorship: think about joining a constituency group with organizations like Rainbow Refugee and Rainbow Railroad.


A year and counting: FOH’s growth and expansion

Foundation of Hope held its first annual general meeting on July 22, 2015. We officially adopted our bylaws, appointed an Executive and Board of Directors, and established a set of standing committees for the coming years – these are the hallmark of sound governance.

Standing committees are the pillars of FOH’s success. They comprise members of the working Board of Directors as a volunteer organization and extend to include the generous volunteer community that has taken membership with the Foundation. This level of administrative support is just as important as financial contributions from generous donors and FOH is grateful for the level of individual and corporate contributions made to date. Success is enabled by effective fundraising efforts, strong levels of community engagement, and continual grant funding to eligible non-profit and non-governmental organizations doing the legwork on the ground.

Foundation of Hope’s efforts are ultimately intended to help individual LGBT+ refugees and asylum seekers, both as newcomers to Canada and across the world, in order to successfully accomplish its mission.

I can’t believe is already September! In the time since STRUT, our flagship fundraiser, we are thrilled to report that we are growing up fast as an organization and getting geared up for giving. And ’tis the season indeed, considering the looming refugee crises across the world, foremost of which has been escalating in Syria following the onset of the civil war and ensuing political turmoil in the Middle East.

The Syrian war was the initiate for FOH. Several of us were part of the original constituency group that sponsored two Syrian gay men to come to Canada. The Foundation emerged from that original Circle of Hope and through fundraising efforts and an online granting program, FOH has recently been formally approached to financially contribute to a growing movement known as Lifeline SyriaSponsorship of LGBT+ refugees and asylum seekers is one of two streams of funding that FOH offers.

Community services is the other stream of FOH grant funding. Foundation of Hope has been approached to assist with counselling services intended to help LBGT+ newcomers overcome emotional and psychological barriers associated with migration from their countries of origin. These are countries that denounce the right to freely express alternative forms of gender and sexual identity.

Moving forward, Foundation of Hope is actively accepting applications from eligible applicant organizations and is continually seeking individuals and organizations that are interested in contributing through volunteers efforts and as donors.

Contact Foundation of Hope today and consider becoming a member, either as a volunteer or through generous contributions. Or better yet both!






Strutting for HOPE

Moe Sonko moved to Canada in 2012 to seek protection as a refugee because homosexuality is not only illegal; but also punishable by 14 years to life in prison where he is from.

Moe was born and raised in The Gambia, a very small West African country. Walking a mile in pink high heels to help raise funds and awareness for LGBT+ refugees was a big deal and something very close to Moe’s heart because he was a refugee myself.

By participating in STRUT, he put his face on homosexuality for young kids growing up in The Gambia so they wouldn’t feel alone in this world like he did. It wasn’t until Moe moved to England that he learned about others like him in this world.

“If I can help one kid feel secure and not alone, that makes me happy.”

Moe arrived in Vancouver on a very cold/rainy day in October of 2012. He had never been here before and with no family or friends here he had nowhere to go and very little money. Moving here all by himself was the scariest thing he had ever done in his life.

He vividly remembers getting out of the train and thinking, “I have no idea what I am doing or if I will even survive this mentally and emotionally, but I am ready to make this chapter in my life a good one.”

All Moe wanted was to live in a country when he can be himself without the fear of persecution.

“I feel very lucky to have the support of my family and to be living in a country like Canada where I can be my authentic self and express myself however I want. That’s not the case for so many LGBT+ men and women around the world, who are prosecuted or even killed for being who they truly are.”

“I feel it is my duty to be the voice for the voiceless, to help bring awareness.”

The freedom of expression is what STRUT represents and that includes non-gender conformity: men in dresses, wearing makeup or heels, and vice versa for women. People should be free to express themselves however they please and without any fear of persecution!

Moe often asks people “Have you ever had your heart broken?” Imagine the things you have known as a child—the food, the people, your childhood home, your neighbors, playgrounds, the smell of the air… Then imagine having all of that taken away from you forever and to never have it back.

That is the heartbreaking reality of being an LGBT+ refugee and it really identifies what STRUT is all about.


ALL OUT launches its #GAYISOK campaign with Lush Cosmetics

As board members of Foundation of Hope, we were thrilled to have been invited to attend the Lush Cosmetics pre-launch event of a fantastic new soap product that has been crafted specifically for a campaign that will run from June 25th to July 4th, 2015. The event highlighted the new Love Soap, a beautiful bar of soap that prominently features #GAYISOK in gold letters.

Honestly, it’s beautiful. The bar is beautiful. The scent is beautiful. The sentiment is beautiful. But what is most beautiful is that the company plans to raise 250,000 pounds, all of which will be directed to LGBT+ groups through grants from ALL OUT . Many of these groups currently lack the resources needed to meet the challenges to a right to live equitably as an LGBT+ individual. And many are in constant danger because they challenge the status quo. This cooperative venture with ALL OUT will mean that millions more individuals will be able to learn about this human rights crisis and will know that money from their soap purchases will be directed to groups via an organization that is fighting for love, equality, and acceptance throughout the world.

So that’s the good news! The tragic news about this campaign is that about 100 Lush shops around the world will be unable to participate due to anti-gay legislation in their country. Clearly, when it is a crime to be gay in 76 countries, there is a huge amount of work left to be done.

There are still 825 Lush shops around the world with kick-off campaigns on June 25th, at which time the soap will also be available for purchase online.

As for the Vancouver pre-launch event, it is truly wonderful to see and experience the pride of Lush employees and their strong willingness to participate in this initiative. Imagine working for a company with such a bold and caring vision. Lush is committed to being one of these companies.

The energy in the store was riveting when the speakers, such as Brandi Halls, Director of Brand Communications for Lush, provided a comprehensive overview of the campaign and Lush’s relationship with ALL OUT. In listening to her, it was clear that the campaign is a hugely passionate endeavour. Foundation of Hope Board Director Dr. Hasan Abdessamad explained the role of FOH in financially assisting organizations with the challenges of transition for refugees that come to Canada upon being persecuted in their countries of origin. Former refugees Zdravko Cimbaljevic and Moe Sonko also told their stories of how they endured the hatred in their home countries simply for being gay, which ultimately forced them to leave in order to survive. As refugees, they believe that getting their message out provides hope and empowers others. Their stories clarify why the work being done by Lush and ALL OUT is so powerful and so necessary.

Click to view Dr. Abdessamad’s speech.

Click to view Mr. Sonko’s speech.

Click to view Mr. Cimbaljevic’s speech.

When a company like Lush Cosmetics commits itself to such a powerful endeavour, it is quite simply heartwarming. And Lush is moving way beyond the production of a beautiful soap. They are part of a movement that is spreading love and acceptance.

The Foundation of Hope is pleased that we are a trusted ally and were invited to participate in this event. We are particularly pleased that LUSH and FOH plan to continue this conversation and collaboration.


In-Canada refugee status for Indian homosexuals

I recently accompanied a young Indian man to meet with Chris Morrissey at Rainbow Refugee’s drop-in session at Qmunity. He is looking at options that would prevent him from having to return to India, which has recently criminalized homosexuality, thereby putting him at risk of persecution. When his work visa expires, his family back home expects him to return and they intend to marry him off.

According to Morrissey, he has an option to file an in-Canada refugee claim, largely based on his country of origin due to the recent regressive legislation that directly jeopardizes homosexuals in India. The new law was recently instated under India’s criminal code. Family pressure to get married is one thing, but under this law, individuals have no recourse, since the state doesn’t support their sexual identities.

In the case of Indian LGBT+ individuals seeking asylum, chances for a successful refugee claim are improved in Canada. Claimants must first get a lawyer for the hearing. Legal aid is an option available to many that don’t have the means to finance themselves. They should feel comfortable being represented and will need to make sure they can prove their country of origin.

A great deal of planning and preparation goes into a refugee claim. It is necessary to supply evidence to support one’s sexual identity. Every written account and piece of supporting testimony must be consistent. Questions asked at hearings can be somewhat uncomfortable, partly because agents at the hearing will have to make a decision in writing. So they need to clearly understand the position and must document the evidence to support their decisions.

According to Morrissey, a refugee application to Canada also has a medical waiver (i.e., the individual does not have to meet the medical requirements that are otherwise necessary under general immigration protocol). Having some non-communicable medical condition such as cancer, diabetes, HIV,  etc… does not make it impossible to get a refugee claim, whereas applying for immigration as skilled worker with a disease automatically makes you medically ineligible.

“People often think they are ineligible based on these grounds and ‘self-select’ out”, stated Morrissey, founder of Rainbow Refugees Society. Any health-related issues that may exist can intuitively be perceived as a challenge to a successful claim; however, under India’s new law, Chris figures it could actually bolster a refugee claim. Perceptions of disease may put individuals exceedingly at risk of persecution in society, particularly due to India’s history as a caste society.

“Diseased people will be treated as untouchable within their own family, even though parents love their kids,” stated the young man who met with Chris. “It puts them under excessive pressure and improves the chances for making wrong decisions. Without any perceived love and support from family, how can they expect love and support from society?”

Every refugee claimant must have a reasonably well-founded fear of persecution.

“It is important to distinguish between persecution and discrimination”, noted Chris. An article under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, of which Canada is a signatory, states that persecution is implicit if individuals cannot get state protection. Persecution is explicit in situations where the state has legally denounced certain sexual identities, such as in India.


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