On Easter Sunday in 2010, Dawn-Lynn Prediger and her husband Peter received a call about a young Guatemalan couple with a baby. They had just walked across the Canadian border.
On the phone was a police officer who knew of Prediger’s volunteerism with refugees and immigrants. Unsure of what would happen to the family, Dawn-Lynn asked that they be brought to their home. They stayed for seven weeks and in that time, they learned all that goes into arriving in Canada as a refugee claimant.
The family secured legal aid and social assistance, and it wasn’t long until the man found a job and the family settled in, she said.
Yet, two years later, they were denied refugee status and were deported.
“It was hard … they’d become our family.”
The Predigers, who run the Inasmuch Community Society, decided to dedicate their time to assisting refugee claimants and now have a home where they can help more people through their first steps in Canada.
Andrea Dykshoorn, the co-ordinator of Community Connections at Abbotsford Community Services (ACS), said there are three main categories of refugees. Government-assisted refugees are brought to Canada through the UN High Commission for Refugees and have generally been living in refugee camps before they are resettled. They receive government support for their first year in Canada. Privately sponsored refugees are supported by organizations or churches who agree to provide care. And refugee claimants go through a hearing process where it is decided if their claim is legitimate.
In the last 12 months, ACS has served about 48 refugees who were not government-assisted.
The Predigers first became involved with refugees while in Swaziland in the 1990s, working with Trans World Radio. There, they met people in refugee camps who were fleeing the genocide in Rwanda. By 2011, Dawn-Lynn said she knew what she and her husband needed to do.
In July 2012, they sold their home and moved into a basement suite with the vision of eventually creating a house where they could help refugee claimants as they integrate into Canadian society.
This year, they found a city-owned house in central Abbotsford, and in about a month, the 3,800-sq.ft. home was renovated through donations of paint, flooring, countertops, sinks, fixtures and labour. The Predigers, who are members of Northview Community Church, let people know about the project and many signed up to volunteer.
“It’s an overwhelming sense of gratitude and community,” she said.
While Dawn-Lynn and Peter live in a suite upstairs, the rest of the home is set up with common spaces and three rooms for refugee claimants, along with an additional kitchenette, living room, bathroom, game space, and a specific computer to allow them to contact their home countries and legal aid.
Dykshoorn said many refugee claimants arrive with trauma and have to live with the fear of not being able to stay in Canada, “so having that house and the community support from other people who are going through similar challenges can make a huge difference.”
For many refugees, they are being processed by the government but in the meantime don’t have a place to live, said Dawn-Lynn. She said living in the house allows them to talk to one another, as meetings with officials, such as Canadian Border Service Agency, can be very stressful.
“They’ve come from torture, they’ve come from war-torn countries … and they come here, and they are already traumatized … That’s why they need someone to be there. We don’t make any of the decisions, we’re just the support.”
And although the house was completely redone in a month, realizing the dream of creating the home took years.
Those wishing to donate to the Inasmuch Society can do so through the Northview Community Church: northview.org.
Above photo: In one month, the Prediger home was redone with help from generous volunteers who gave supplies, time and labour.