Each year, millions of people around the world are forced to flee their homelands to escape persecution, war or severe human rights abuses. Often, these people are permanently displaced and are never able to return home. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and the subsequent civil war, millions of people sought refuge in neighbouring Central and South Asian countries. Many also found themselves fleeing to North America, Europe and other countries to find a safe haven and start a new life.
On Friday, 9 October 2009, Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS) and the Ismaili Council for Canada, together with a number of other organisations, were honoured for their work on refugee settlement at a ceremony in Toronto.
The occasion marked the 30th anniversary of the Private Sponsorship Program run by the Canadian Government, which has facilitated the admission of over 200 000 refugees to Canada, allowing them to build new lives for themselves.
In a letter presented by Judge Patricia Phenix to Gulam Juma, Coordinator of the FOCUS International Coordinating Committee and Mina Mawani, CEO of the Ismaili Council for Canada, the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, wrote:
“The work you undertake in supporting refugees is a voluntary act, motivated by compassion, caring, and desire to take an active role in protecting refugees… I would like to take this opportunity to extend my gratitude for your contribution and personal sacrifice, which has allowed Canada to fulfill its humanitarian commitment to assist victims of persecution, human rights violations, and injustice from around the globe. The support from you and your organization has saved lives and ensured that sponsored refugees contribute to the social economic, political and cultural life of Canadian society.”
Through protocols with the Canadian and Quebec governments between 1992 and 2001, refugees from Afghanistan and Kosovo were settled in Canada by FOCUS on behalf of the Ismaili Council for Canada.
Over the last 15 years, more than 10 000 refugees or approximately 2 300 families have been assisted through the resettlement programme.
The resettlement programme has ensured that newly settled families have had access to resources, support assistance and basic needs such as shelter, food, clothing, information, orientations and practical assistance to help them adjust to their new living and work environments, as well as gaining necessary life-skills. The programme has also played an important role in supporting activities and initiatives that enable families and individuals to have access to education, health services, language training, job preparation and placement or additional training and education aimed at upgrading, accreditation and credentials.
Through their own hard work and the support provided by the Ismaili Council for Canada and FOCUS, newly settled refugees have been able to establish good foundations and achieve success in their lives. Some have even been able to return to Afghanistan to assist its rebuilding, and in strengthening local leadership capacity.
Focus Humanitarian Assistance is affiliated with the Aga Khan Development Network, a group of institutions working to improve opportunities and living conditions, for people of all faiths and origins, in specific regions of the developing world. Underlying the establishment of FOCUS is a history of successful initiatives to assist people struck by natural and man-made disasters in South and Central Asia, and Africa.