End the Third Safe Country Agreement

In light of the latest policies from the Trump administration, many are asking how to respond.  One call to action for Canadians is to call upon our federal government to modify its current immigration policies especially with respect to the Safe Third Country Agreement. Below are links providing further background information and a sample letter you can send your Member of Parliament and the Minister of Immigration today!

Helpful Links:

Sample letter to your Member of Parliament 

The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship
House of Commons Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Minister Hussen:

I am deeply troubled by American President Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning the entry of refugees and visitors from certain predominantly Muslim countries.

In light of Mr. Trump’s actions, I believe that Canada has a moral duty to protect refugees in need regardless of their ethnicity or religious beliefs. The recent edict by Mr. Trump creates an environment which is unsafe for all asylum seekers in the USA. I am therefore calling upon the government of Canada to repeal of the “Safe Third Country” agreement. Under this agreement, barring a few exceptions, refugee claimants are denied the opportunity to seek asylum at our borders from the USA.  I also call upon the government to expand our target numbers for government and privately sponsored refugees this year to include provisions to add “rejected” refugees originally destined (and vetted) for the USA, to our numbers, if no other alternate measures can be found for these refugees in need of protection. Thank you for your prompt action.

Yours Sincerely,



Matthew House Response to recent refugee-related edicts in USA

Matthew House stands in solidarity with refugees in need of protection everywhere, irrespective of their race, religion or other distinguishing characteristics.  

We believe in the dignity and worth of every human person.
We believe that every person deserves a safe home.
We believe all people have the right to enjoy freedom from fear.
We believe that race, religion and nationality should not stand in the way of inclusion.
We believe that every person deserves to be treated with fairness and justice.
We believe every person has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

We stand with our sisters and brothers in the USA and everywhere who also believe.

In response to the recent Executive Order passed by the Trump administration in the United States, we stand together with our refugee-supporting colleagues across Canada in calling upon the government of Canada to immediately suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement.  This agreement was put in place in 2004 which barred would-be asylum seekers who did not have close relatives in Canada (or were not unaccompanied minors) from entering Canada via American borders. Human rights activists at the time fought this bill arguing that even then, there was evidence that asylum seekers in the USA faced grave hardships (eg. risk of long term detention) and other serious risks which therefore deemed it an unsafe country.  Given the recent government edicts and the current political climate, the risk to vulnerable asylum seekers is much more evident today.  No asylum seeker arriving at our border from the USA should be turned back.

Here are two official statements from Canadian coalitions supporting refugee rights in Canada namely: the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) and the Canadian Association of Refugees Lawyers (CARL).

Matthew House concurs with the sentiments and recommendations expressed in each of these statements.

Two official statements from Canadian coalitions supporting refugee rights in Canada

CCR calls on Canada to increase refugee resettlement and withdraw from Safe Third Country Agreement

In the wake of the January 27 Executive Order signed by the US President, the Canadian Council for Refugees urges Canadians and the Canadian government to redouble their efforts to welcome refugees and to reject all discrimination against Muslims.

The Order temporarily halts all resettlement of refugees to the US, and halves the number of refugees to be resettled in the current year, bars Syrian refugees and discriminates against refugees of Muslim faith or background. The Order also imposes a temporary ban on the admission of nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries.

The loss of US leadership on refugee protection will be devastating to refugees globally. This makes Canada’s leadership role more important than ever. While Canada cannot hope to fill the vacuum left by the US, we should certainly do what we can.

In particular, the CCR calls on the Canadian government to respond to the US cuts by increasing Canada’s refugee resettlement targets and by opening the door to more refugee sponsorship applications. The government is planning to bring just 7,500 Government Assisted Refugees and 16,000 Privately Sponsored Refugees in 2017.

Recent measures have significantly limited Canadian sponsors’ ability to apply to sponsor refugees. These measures include suspension of Quebec’s sponsorship program, a lower than expected cap for Sponsorship Agreement Holders, and limitations for Groups of Five regarding which refugees they can sponsor.

We also urge the Canadian government to offer to resettle, on an emergency basis, all refugees who were approved for resettlement to the US but are now denied entry to the US, over and above Canada’s refugee resettlement targets for 2017.

CCR also calls on the Canadian government to withdraw from the Safe Third Country Agreement with the US, which closes the door to most refugee claimants applying at Canada’s land border. The US was never safe for all refugees and is now even less safe. Withdrawing from the Agreement would mean that those needing Canada’s protection could apply in an orderly way at the border, rather than being forced, as now, to cross the border irregularly, putting themselves at physical danger and promoting opportunities for smugglers.

Canadians who are looking for ways to resist Trump’s measures are encouraged to show solidarity with people of all faiths and to support local organizations who work with refugee claimants. These organizations (which receive little or no government funding) are serving increasing numbers of refugee claimants, many of whom have arrived via the US.


Janet Dench, Executive Director, jdench@ccrweb.ca, 514-277-7223 (ext 2)

CARL Calls For Suspension of Safe Third Country Agreement, Increased Refugee Re-Settlement, In Wake of Trump Executive Orders

January 30, 2017

For Immediate Release
The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) condemns President Donald Trump’s recent Executive Orders on immigration. These Orders set in motion profound changes in US immigration and refugee practices, and will have far-reaching effects on the availability of asylum in the US.

In the wake of these changes, and given deep uncertainty over their effects, CARL is calling on Canada to immediately suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) with the US.

Under the STCA, those who try to enter Canada through the US to make a refugee claim at the border are returned to the US regardless of whether they will or already have had access to asylum in the US. The US and Canada have considered one another “safe” for asylum-seekers. The STCA creates a North American approach to refugee approvals. With President Trump’s Executive Orders, the US is unilaterally changing the terms of that approach, with potentially disastrous consequences for vulnerable asylum-seekers.

“We are witnessing a dramatic shift away from basic norms of human rights and refugee protection in the US. In this environment we simply cannot rely on the Trump administration to protect the refugees we turn away at our borders. Canada has a duty to suspend enforcement of the STCA immediately” said Mitch Goldberg, President of CARL.

In light of the unilateral changes announced in the Executive Order, CARL is calling on Canada to reassess US asylum law and practice during the suspension period and, unless the evidence indicates that the US actually complies with its international refugee law obligations, the termination of the agreement.

“We should not be sending anyone back to face an increasingly hostile and discriminatory system,” said Lobat Sadrehashemi, Vice-President of CARL. 

CARL is also calling on Canada to respond to the US suspension of refugee resettlement by increasing the number of refugees it will re-settle in 2017, given the suspension of the US refugee resettlement. “We are living through a global refugee crisis. In addition to the acute needs of refugees from Syria, refugee populations in other parts of the world, including eastern Africa, will be deeply affected by the US decision to suspend its refugee program. Now more than ever, other countries need to step forward,” said Toronto-based refugee lawyer, and CARL Advocacy Chair, Andrew Brouwer.

Finally, CARL is calling on Canada to work with other resettlement countries and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, to fill the gaps caused by the US suspension of its resettlement program. “We should be working with other countries to ensure that the individuals and families who have already gone through the US’ refugee screening program can be re-settled elsewhere,” said Toronto-based refugee lawyer and past President of CARL, Lorne Waldman.

  • For more information, please contact:
  • Mitch Goldberg, 514-808-0843
  • Lobat Sadrehashemi, 604-374-4860
  • Andrew Brouwer, 416-435-3269
  • Lorne Waldman, 416-254-4590

There’s still time!

As this year winds down, we wish for you a very happy 2017 filled with joy and peace.

Your support this year has made a great impact.  Thanks to you, 2016 was a transformative year at Matthew House.  As one resident recently told us….this is my home and my family, you have saved my life.

Here are the many ways you have supported our residents:

  • 100 refugees were welcomed and supported through our three homes.
  • 10 youth and 5 families were given a place to call home.
  • 27 refugee families received additional assistance through our community partnership and outreach program.

We want to say yes to even more refugees in 2017, but we need you say yes first.  Your generous year-end donation will make this happen.

Thank you for continuing to partner with us.  We are so grateful for your support in bringing hope and a caring community to the refugees who arrive on our doorstep.

Happy New Year!

Grace & Peace,

Karen Francis and Anne Woolger
Executive Director and Founding Directo

An Unexpected Family In A New Country


Thanks to you, Matthew has a family and hope for his future. However, when the young Nigerian first arrived in Canada he had a difficult experience seeking asylum at the border. Alone and already traumatized, he then found himself in a rough men’s shelter in downtown Toronto. “The other men tried to pick fights with me and tried to force me to do and sell drugs. I kept praying to God to help me,” he says. Help came when he was directed to Matthew House. “A house with the same name as me!” recalls Matthew.

Matthew House is a safe haven. “I was so thankful for the warm welcome, love, and support I felt,” says Matthew. Safe at last and exhausted he was finally able to sleep through the night. Matthew House staff and volunteers helped him enrol in high school, gave him orientation to Canada, and sent him for counseling to deal with his painful refugee experience. “I could see the drive and passion of the Matthew House community who sincerely wanted to help me and others,” says Matthew.

Your support facilitates meaningful bonds for long-term success. When it came time for him to move out on his own, there was no space at Matthew House’s two transition homes. Enter Paul Zurbrigg, a long-time volunteer who befriended Matthew. “When Paul invited me to come and live with him, it was the best thing I’d ever heard,” says Matthew. Four years later, they truly consider themselves a family. He describes Paul as the dad he had lost. “I see him very much as family—like a son,” says Paul.


Your generosity supports people like Matthew. Without Matthew House, he could have had a very different journey. He arrived in a strange country frightened and alone. Now Matthew feels part of a family and dreams of going to college to become a police officer. When asked about the future, Matthew replied: “When I have a family of my own someday, I want [Paul] to come and live with us – never in a nursing home – as my future kids would have a very good grandfather.”

As we enter the season of giving, we are asking again for your help. Please consider becoming a monthly partner or making a one-time contribution so that together we can build a supportive, welcoming, and caring community for all refugees.

May you find great satisfaction in knowing you have helped refugees, like Matthew, realise the safe, happy and hopeful life we all so richly deserve.


Karen Francis and Anne Woolger
Executive Director and Founding Director

Giving thanks for our community


 Emmy, Sarah and Rahwa at the Scotiabank Charity Run 2015

This weekend many of us will gather with family and loved ones to give thanks for our many blessings. Sadly, the security we are grateful for is not guaranteed to everyone. Many refugees, even upon arrival in Canada, live in fear for their safety, never sure what the next day will bring.

This is why we are grateful for people like you who make this community possible.

This weekend residents across our three homes will have a safe place to call home including Sarah, Emmy, and Rahwa.  In the past year, all three had nowhere to turn when they arrived in Canada.  For Sarah, and her daughter, who has special needs, they had no support system or a place to stay.  Emmy and Rahwa, who arrived as unaccompanied minors, found themselves in frightening situations their first few days in Canada.  Thankfully, they were quickly connected to Matthew House and are part of our family.

This was made possible thanks to your support. It enables our community to provide holistic care to the many refugees who access our services each year.

At this time of year when we count our many blessings, will you bless a refugee with a safe and loving home in Canada?

Join our Scotiabank team today and raise support for our refugee family.  Online registration ends on Monday.  You can also sponsor the residents taking part like Sarah, Rahwa, and Emmy.

Thank you so much and Happy Thanksgiving!

Karen Francis
Executive Director

Press Release: Ethiopia’s best now run for Canada

Sitting in a living room in downtown Toronto, Dawit watched his friend Fayisa Lilesa cross his arms in silent protest as he won silver in the Rio Olympics Marathon.

Hake’s heart soared.

“He is my friend. We worked together training,” the 30-year-old champion runner says, breakfast dishes at the Matthew House refugee shelter pushed aside to make room for conversation.

Dawit himself will be running in competition again Oct. 16 but this time for Matthew House, as part of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon Charity Challenge. He and three other elite runners have all fled Ethiopia and as fate would have it all found themselves welcomed by Matthew House in Toronto.

Matthew House, an 18-year-old charity that helps newly arrived refugee claimants who would otherwise be homeless, is one of the official charities for this year’s Scotiabank marathon. This year’s Matthew House Team of friends, family, supporters, refugees and refugee claimants will include those four very recent arrivals who turned their backs on international running careers to survive.

Unlike government or privately sponsored refugees, there is no system in place for refugees who arrive on their own. Matthew House has welcomes more than 1,400 refugees from 94 countries since it opened in 1998, all without government funding. This year, the goal is for the Matthew House Team to raise $90,000 to help keep its homes providing food, shelter, refugee claim assistance and a transition to life in Canada.

Here is a glimpse of the compelling human stories behind those elite runners who will be part of the Matthew House Team this year. The runners are available for interviews before the marathon by contacting Karen Francis  at Matthew House at karenfrancis@matthewhouse.ca or 647-998-3397.



Every step makes a difference!


Nine years ago Aynadis, a quiet, unassuming teenager from Ethiopia arrived alone at our home.  Her English was limited but through a translator, we learned she was a runner.  A month after she arrived the Scotiabank Charity Challenge was taking place and I asked her if she wanted to join.  She agreed and was registered for the 5km run.

On the morning of the race, she joined us for the group photo and then simply blended into the mass of thousands of other runners at the starting corals.   Those of us who walked the 5km race arrived at Nathan Philips Square just in time to hear the MC begin to announce the winners of the various races.  To our surprise and amazement, Aynadis was called to the stage and named as the first place champion of the Women’s 5km race!

Since then Aynadis has continued her journey with perseverance and today is living a successful life in Canada. She is just one of the many who come through the doors of Matthew House whose stories inspire our work.

On October 16th, the Matthew House community will once again join together to raise support for refugees by participating in the Scotiabank Charity Challenge.  Some dedicated team members will simply walk 5 km while others (including newly arrived world class runners) will complete the marathon.

Our goal is to raise $90,000.

Will you join us and walk or run in support of a refugee in need of a safe home? To register, click here and follow the links.

Thank you so much for helping make a difference in the life of a refugee.  I hope you will join me on October 16th!

With gratitude,

Anne Woolger
Founding Director

In a World of Intolerance, “We Stand with Refugees”


Janis and Sadaf enjoying a conversation in our Healing Garden 

In a World of Intolerance, “We Stand with Refugees”

When Janis Flowers began her very first day of volunteering at Matthew House ten years ago, little did she know that a divine connection was about to begin when she opened the door to a  traumatized young woman from Afghanistan.

Immediately sensing her fear, Janis reached out and welcomed her. It did not take long before Janis took Sadaf* under her wing, devoting much more time to her than just her Monday shift. “She was like a mother to me,” says Sadaf. There were times when Janis would simply hold her as she went through moments of intense homesickness, missing the family she had to leave behind, especially her mom.

Knowing that Sadaf was suffering the effects of severe physical and emotional trauma, Janis took it upon herself to find gentle doctors who would commit to her care. She escorted her to medical appointments and midnight tests, as well as to a private pain clinic that treated her pro bono weekly for one year. “Our visits often included stops for tea after a difficult appointment, or a Tim’s French Vanilla on our way home,” Janis recalls.

We highlight their touching story in this issue because it so thoroughly embodies this year’s United Nations World Refugee Day theme of “We Stand with Refugees.” At a time of rising intolerance around the world, when many nations are shutting their doors to the plight of refugees, it’s important that we remember the real people and caring relationships that make our work so critical.

At Matthew House, we not only stand with refugees, we walk with them until they are fully a part of our community. For Janis and Sadaf, this meant standing together through the legal process of the refugee hearing. And thank goodness Janis was there. On several occasions, the interpreter said things that were nonsensical or out-of-character for Sadaf. Fearing that her refugee claim was in jeopardy, Janis took her concerns to Sadaf’s lawyer. Their persistent advocacy resulted in an IRB review of the case. Sure enough, the translation was found to be significantly faulty, and Sadaf was granted a new hearing.

Today, Sadaf and Janis remain true friends. Over the years they’ve had many visits over cakes, nuts and tea at Sadaf’s home, and often talked on special days like Mother’s Day and Canada Day. Now happily married and thriving, Sadaf remembers the one who stood with her during those early fragile years: “She made a world of difference for me. I am so grateful for Matthew House and my dear ‘mother’ Janis.”

As for Janis, that gratitude goes both ways. “Learning the commonalities and differences in our cultures, and growing to love and respect each other, it has been such a blessing,” she says.

Matthew House celebrates bonds like this, which make our world so much more humane. We are forever grateful for the incredible group of volunteers and supporters who stand with our refugee friends. Thank you all!

* Sadaf’s name has been changed for safety reasons.


I am very happy to announce that we are kicking off a matching gift initiative! A few generous partners have agreed to match every single dollar raised through the Scotiabank Charity Run for the next 3 days – up to $8,500.

Now is the time to participate and make your donation as every dollar given will be doubled to support refugees. Don’t let this generous matching donation slip away, double your impact today! This opportunity starts now and ends Saturday at midnight.

Thank you for your support of refugees arriving in the city of Toronto!

Karen Francis
Executive Director

Donate Today and Double Your Impact