The Primate's World Relief Fund is encouraging dioceses across Canada to sponsor 50 refugee families within the next two years to celebrate the fund's 50th anniversary by providing settlement assistance for people who must leave their home countries.

Carolyn Vanderlip, facilitator for PWRDF's anniversary program, said the idea came from the PWRDF refugee network, which includes diocesan refugee coordinators and others interested in refugee issues and advocacy.

Many dioceses have helped refugees settle in Canada since 1979, beginning with the sponsorship of many "boat people" from Vietnam. Parishes within the Diocese of New Westminster have been involved since the beginning.

The 50 refugee families over the next two years will be selected the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and will have already been referred to Canada. In federal government terms, the families will be "visa office referred" cases.

As to which countries future refugees will come from, Vanderlip said, "It's impossible to say, until we have the referrals. But Canada is currently or will be soon resettling many Iraqi refugees, ethnic Karens from Burma, and Bhutanese currently in Nepal-also some Colombians, Congolese, Afghanis, and Somalis, and others."

No totals have been kept of people helped, but during the past five years New Westminster parishes have sponsored several family groups, 45 people in total, who have come from Afghanistan, Colombia, Iran, Burma, Pakistan, and Somalia, and other countries.

Vanderlip said the refugee network has indicated they would be interested in families of two to five persons, in all age ranges. Worldwide, 80% of refugees are women and children. She said she hopes that parishes, or groups of parishes working together or ecumenically with other Churches, will commit to sponsoring families by providing up to one year of financial support, provide orientation, help them get settled, and "most importantly providing friendship and moral support."

"The refugees will not necessarily all go to large cities," said Vanderlip. "For some it may be beneficial to settle them in a smaller community, especially if their background was from a small village or community," she said.

Other events are planned for the 50th anniversary, including a commemorative service October 26 in Springhill, Nova Scotia. The Primate's World Relief Fund came into existence as a result of the Springhill Mine Disaster of 1958. An underground explosion trapped 174 men in a coalmine at a depth of 14,000 feet, and 75 men died as a result of the disaster. The loss of life moved Anglicans and other Canadians to respond with assistance for the stricken families and community.Over the past 50 years, Anglicans have raised more than $88 million to support PWRDF's work.

A 50th Anniversary Steering Committee has been set up, which from the Diocese of New Westminster includes Bishop Michael Ingham, the Rev. Kevin Dixon of St. Mary's Kerrisdale, and Denise Hambidge of All Saints' Ladner, who is vice president of PWRDF.