Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Helping Syrian Refugees in Canada and Closer to Their Homes

Lots of churches are planning to sponsor Syrian refugees--a generous response that warms all of our hearts. But sponsoring refugees is expensive. It can cost between $30,000 to $50,000 to bring in one family. This is money that will not be available to international aid organizations that are trying to help the millions of desperate Syrian refugees still in the region--people who are hungry, yet who want to return home one day to rebuild their shattered country. Maybe we can do both: Help people who want to come to Canada, and those who, like young Angeline above, are still in places like Jordan and Lebanon. 

 “Don’t forget me.”

That’s what a Syrian woman told Don Peters, Executive Director of Mennonite Central Committee, when he visited her in Lebanon.

It was 2013, and Peters had met many Syrians in that country who had fled their homes In Syria for uncertain lives as refugees. They told him about escaping as their homes were being destroyed, and about watching conflict envelop their cities and neighbourhoods.

“Many had crossed into Lebanon without official documents and little money,” says Peters. 

“They were worried about how they would buy food and pay for housing. They wondered if they would be able to find work, schools for their children and medical attention for their injuries.”

Most of them said their dream was to return home to Syria one day to rebuild their shattered communities and lives.

As Peters looked into that woman’s eyes, he realized she was asking him something profound, something beyond her own personal story.

“She was asking me to remember all the people we had met, and all the refugees who would seek a safe haven in places such as Lebanon,” he says.

Unfortunately that woman, and the millions of other Syrians still in the region who are affected by the conflict in their country, they are in danger of being forgotten today by many Canadians.

This isn’t happening out of lack of care or concern. To their great credit, many churches and other places of worship, along with businesses, governments and others, are responding generously to help relocate Syrian refugees to Canada. 

We have all been moved by the heartfelt scenes in the media as sponsors welcome families from that war-torn country to their new home.

This response is a good, right, proper and Canadian thing to do. Everyone who has donated money, time or effort to help resettle Syrian refugees in Canada is to be commended. 

But the number of refugees coming to Canada is just a fraction of the many people from that country who need our help today.

Right now, there are an estimated three million Syrians who have fled for safety to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Over six million are internally displaced within Syria itself. The World Food Programme (WFP) is feeding over four million people inside Syria and 1.3 million more in neighbouring countries.

These are people who hope to go home one day, when the war finally ends. But with almost all the attention today on helping bring refugees to Canada, its hard for aid agencies to raise awareness about their needs—or get the funding they need.

For example, declines in funding has meant that the WFP has had to reduce the amount of food it provides for Syrian refugees by a quarter. This means people have to eat smaller meals, and less frequently. Other aid groups face similar challenges.

This doesn’t mean Canadians should stop helping bring Syrian refugees to Canada—far from it!  But perhaps they can help people come here, but also help those who are still in the region.

One way to do that would be for groups sponsoring refugee families to add ten percent to the total they need to raise. This extra money can then be given to help those who are still in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

For example, it costs my own agency, Canadian Foodgrains Bank, $13.50 to provide supplemental food for one Syrian refugee in Lebanon or Jordan for a month through its member agencies. It’s $67.50 for a family of five. 

Since it can cost between $30,000 to $50,000 to sponsor one family to come to Canada, an extra ten percent would provide $3,000 to $5,000, or enough for a group to “sponsor” another three to six families a year.

For Peters, that encounter with the Syrian refugee woman two years ago stayed with him. “Of all the places I have been, and the people I have met during my time at MCC, that day in Lebanon is one of my most profound memories,” he says.

Not all of us can have a personal experience like that. But we can all join together in remembering her, and the millions more Syrians in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria who need our help. 

Donations made by December 31 to registered charities responding to the needs of Syrian refugees in the region will be matched 1:1 by the Canadian government.

No comments:

Post a Comment