Capital Rainbow Refuge – for when home doesn’t feel like home

From left: Sean Van Liempt, Chad Buffel, Nanda Na Champassak, Niamh O’Shea, Stephen Slessor and Lisa Hébert at a potluck for one of Capital Rainbow Refuge’s recent newcomers.   Photo: Charles Fayet

By Valerie Patulot

When Niamh O’Shea is not coordinating Intercultural Programs at Carleton University, she devotes a lot of her free time to supporting sexual and minority refugees through the Ottawa-based charity group called Capital Rainbow Refuge.

Capital Rainbow Refuge was founded in 2010 in response to a commentary published in the Globe and Mail on Canada’s methods of handling individuals at risk of persecution due to gender identification. The group sponsors recognized refugees to help them get established financially, culturally and emotionally in the community. Through its work with internal sponsors, other local support groups and the Canadian government, it has been able to help in the resettlement of approximately 100 people.

Many individuals in contact with Capital Rainbow Refuge are fleeing persecution, punishment and even death in their homeland. Almost 80 countries in the world use methods such as life-long incarceration and the death penalty to get rid of those who label themselves as LGBT. After overcoming all the challenges to achieve official refugee designation, they must prepare for life in a new country. Capital Rainbow Refuge strives to ease the transition.

There are many struggles after arriving in Canada. O’Shea says the resettlement process involves assisting with access to education, jobs, transportation, language and healthcare. Mentorship by Capital Rainbow Refuge helps the settlers navigate and integrate into the community in all aspects of their new life.

“Being a part of Capital Rainbow Refuge means having the opportunity to be a part of a lot of special moments and milestones in people’s lives,” says O’Shea. “We’ve seen individuals we sponsor be accepted into university, achieve career milestones, live in the gender they feel comfortable in and become Canadian citizens.”

On top of providing community support, Capital Rainbow Refuge pushes for sexual and minority refugee advocacy. “A lot of advocacy is happening for the federal government, for example” says O’Shea. “There are a number of initiatives that we would like to see in place. We would love to see the government increase the number of LGBTQ refugees that they’re taking in. We would love to see more training for people who are involved with settlement agencies that are specific to the needs of LGBTQ refugees as well as people who involved in the decision-making process making refugee claims who are working overseas.”

People wanting to get involved can attend a variety of workshops on LGBTQ displaced persons resettlement, sponsorship and support offered by Capital Rainbow Refuge. Ottawa residents are invited to learn more about the process and how they can make a positive difference in the life of a newcomer fleeing persecution and criminalization for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

As well, O’Shea says Capital Rainbow Refuge is actively seeking furniture donations to furnish the homes of the newcomers. Those who are interested in volunteering their time or donating spare furniture are encouraged to contact the organization by email at or private message through Facebook @CapitalRainbowRefuge. It is recommended that donors send photos of the furniture they are willing to give away.

“It is a real honour and a privilege to get to journey beside people who are starting a new chapter of their lives and it’s a chapter of their lives where they are getting to make decisions and choices knowing that they are safer and free to be themselves,” says O’Shea.

Valerie Patulot is a student in journalism and political science at Carleton University.  She loves being busy and drinking copious amounts of coffee.

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