SpongeBob SquarePants and his buddies enchant three giggling young boys kneeling on the floor in front of the TV. Supper plates rest on newspaper placemats. It could be a Friday after-school scene like any Canadian family's, but this one's uniquely theirs: SpongeBob speaks in Arabic, and the boys' gentle ease and comfort in their new apartment in Canada began just a few months ago.
Mahmoud and Amani and their three children, Baara, 8, Mohamad, 7, and Ahmad, 4, moved from Lebanon to London, Ontario, on June 13 thanks to a joint sponsorship between the Canadian government and London's Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada. The family is part of Canada's Blended Visa Office-Referred Refugee Program, or BVOR, which means the United Nations' refugee agency identified them for resettlement and the government and private sponsors split support for their first year in Canada.*
Now known for its swift immigration response to the Syrian refugee crisis, Canada accepts more Syrian refugees than any other country. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) reported that the country welcomed more than 33,000 Syrian refugees between November 4, 2015, and mid-October 2016.
Catholic congregations across Canada sprang to action to help the refugees, setting up trust funds to sponsor children, like the Basilian Fathers in Toronto; sponsoring families, like Ursulines of Jesus in Chatham, and Jesuit-run parishes in St. John's, Halifax, Toronto, Guelph and Winnepeg; even, like the Sisters of Sion, educating themselves and their communities about Islam, the religion most Syrian refugees observe.