'We are in a place where we can help': Vancouver group fundraises to help refugee flee persecution
VANCOUVER -- Amr Kabesh and some of his friends are on a mission to help someone in another part of the world find refuge in Canada.
“The first time we met them it was very exciting, very emotional,” he told CTV News.
It started last summer, when Kabesh came across a memorial in Vancouver for Sarah Hegazi, a prominent LGBTQ+ activist who sought asylum in Canada.
She was jailed in her home country in 2017, after waving a rainbow flag at a concert. Following her release, she came to Toronto, but struggled with depression and PTSD. She died by suicide last June, and was remembered at vigils all over the world.
Kabesh said hearing about Hegazi’s life inspired him.
“That really struck a chord with me, being of a Middle Eastern background,” he said. “I knew that I had a duty to do something about it to help out in some way or another.”
That’s when Kabesh connected with Rainbow Refugee, a Vancouver-based organization that helps people fleeing persecution due to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or HIV status. He and friends formed a fundraising and support circle which they named Home and Haven.
“You have to go through a selection process, the top list of refugees that Rainbow Refugee has basically triaged and prioritized based on the need,” Kabesh said. “The person we’re sponsoring is a refugee from the Middle East. We can’t really say a lot of details for their own protection.”
He said he eventually got to meet the person through a video call.
“They’re great, they’re super excited, they’re super thankful,” he said. “Everything that we’ve been planning for, every conversation that we’ve had is suddenly true in front of our eyes.”
Rainbow Refugee sponsorship co-ordinator Norma Lize was there for the call as well.
“It was very beautiful and extremely emotional,” she said. “And they took it from there.”
She said since 2011, Rainbow Refugee has helped around 250 people from over 63 countries through its assistance partnership program, a national project with support from the federal government.
Government funding at social assistance rates is provided to each sponsored refugee for the first three months, and then the group supporting the individual is responsible for helping them financially for the remaining nine months.
Before the refugee arrives, the circle supporting them has to raise the necessary funds, complete application forms and create a settlement plan for the person for the first year.
“I’m a refugee myself,” Lize said. “As an individual, as a trans activist, it’s very important for me to be in a place where I feel safe, where I feel that I can express myself, be who I was born to be.”
Kabesh said his circle’s goal is to raise $40,000, and added they’re about halfway there, despite the challenges of fundraising in the pandemic.
“We relied a lot on social media, we relied a lot on our contacts to fundraise, and up to this point the response has been amazing,” he said. “We are in a place where we can help. We live in a beautiful country, we’re all lucky to have this, to have the life that we have. I think it’s our duty to step outside of our life and look outside at what’s happening in the world.”