Unable to remain insensitive to the global crisis of migration and the polarization of anti-immigration statements, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM) unveiled their corporate stand regarding migrants and refugees. They accompanied their words with action by seeking the collaboration of organizations to provide a profile of the situation on the South Shore, in a context where the number of families of refugees and asylum seekers has increased exceptionally over the last two years.
“We realize the importance of becoming aware ourselves and of raising the awareness of all people to the reality being played out in the field so as to put things in perspective," said Sister Denise Riel, SNJM Provincial Animator. In the current context, the SNJM Provincial Animator for Quebec wants the citizens of the South Shore "to discover the small and large successful experiences of the various organizations as well as the challenges which we all face: migrants, refugees and we, as a host society.”
Last summer, the massive arrival of people crossing the border seeking Canada’s protection necessitated the setting up of several emergency shelter sites, including the one in Boucherville, called Havre Providence. With the collaboration of the CISSS-ME Emergency Response Teams, this site welcomed nearly 500 people from August to mid-September.
During this same period, Carrefour le Moutier provided support to more than 400 people including 111 families. "We mainly supported these people so they could attain housing, material resources, food assistance, work permit applications and school enrollment," said Amalia Suarez, Project Manager for the asylum seekers at Carrefour le Moutier, who hailed the openness and the invaluable collaboration of Longueuil property owners in offering housing to these newcomers.
Private sponsorship: autonomous refugee
The mobilization of the public in the face of the Syrian crisis made it possible to welcome to Quebec 4,500 refugees through private sponsorship, an approach that is unique in the world. On the South Shore of Montreal, numerous private sponsorship committees were established in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Saint-Lambert, Saint-Hubert and Longueuil. The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM) contributed to the establishment of the private sponsorship committee, ''Chemins d'accueil de Longueuil'', which hosted two Syrian families of 3 and 4 people, respectively.
The young Marcel Alhanout, 18, also witnessed to this desire to integrate and to take advantage of the chance offered to give them a new life. Pointing out the daily challenges which all the members of his family are facing, Marcel said he was happy to live in Quebec. "The first thing that surprised us and that we really appreciated was the freedom that we find here. We are very grateful to our welcoming society."
"In one year, the first family of Syrian refugees has become autonomous. The husband has found a job while his wife is continuing her training in French and her studies so as to soon begin a new career," said Jacques Morin, coordinator of the group Chemins d’accueil de Longueuil. The second family, who arrived last winter, relies on two young adults who are already working while continuing level 3 of the francization program this fall. According to the speaker, beyond the refugees’ first objective to quickly become independent, the active commitment of volunteers to their committees and the strength of their network of contacts contribute significantly to the success of private sponsorships that are attracting the attention of several researchers and organizations, even European ones.
The first Congregation of teachers founded by a Canadian in Longueuil in 1843, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM) are currently working in five countries. In Quebec, they are responsible for the establishment of many renowned institutions including the Vincent-d'Indy School of Music and Collège Durocher Saint-Lambert, and are known as well for their significant presence in almost all schools in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve-Mercier districts. After taking corporate stands on "Water is a human right and public good" and against "Human trafficking", the SNJMs recognized the urgent need to declare their solidarity and to give public testimony by acting in favor of migrants and refugees. In addition to participating in the Chemins d’accueil de Longueuil Committee, the Congregation is also participating in the private sponsorship committee from Saint Monica Parish in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Montreal.
Created in 1975, the Maison Internationale de la Rive-Sud is an organization entirely dedicated to supporting newcomers, including public refugees (supported by the State). Its action focuses mainly on support for the settlement, francization, employability and integration into the host society. The organization has developed strong expertise and has established itself as a key player in the field of integration of migrants and refugees on the South Shore. In light of this, it participates in several round tables. It is the only organization on the territory of the South Shore, to be mandated by the Immigration Department to accompany State-sponsored refugees.
Initially, the group consisted of a core group of 13 individuals from different backgrounds, including religious communities, representatives from the St-Jean-Longueuil Diocese, representatives from community groups and some citizens sensitive to the cause. Since then, some 30 people have been contributing in various ways to support the two sponsored families. Chemin d'accueil de Longueuil is one of the 12 groups involved in private sponsorship in the territory of the Diocese St-Jean-Longueuil.
* Jean-Nicolas Beuze, Representative in Canada of The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), interviewed by the Le Devoir newspaper, July 7, 2017