Syrian Refugees at Budapest’s Keleti railway station. Photo by Mstyslav ChernovW

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The Syrian refugee crisis has inserted itself into the hearts and minds of Canadians — those aghast at watching bedraggled people streaming into Europe, carrying their children and everything they own on their backs. And they are the survivors. Thousands of others have died at sea when their overburdened boats capsized.

Vast and growing crisis

Now estimated to be four million
, Syrian refugees are vast and growing. Although there are people in Canada ready to welcome refugees as they have in the past, those groups no longer have a willing partner in Ottawa. In fact, the Canadian government has failed to respond in ways that could be described as humanitarian and adequate.

Canada reduces refugee intake

The civil war has been raging in Syria since 2011. During those same years, the Conservatives made sweeping changes to refugee policies aimed at discouraging and denigrating asylum seekers. And the plan has worked. In 2005, just before the Conservatives came to power, Canada took in 35,000 refugees. By 2014, the number was 23,000 — a reduction of nearly one-third. What’s more, the government has made it more difficult for Syrian refugees in countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon, to be cleared to come to Canada, and has made it more complex, time-consuming and expensive for the country’s welcoming groups to sponsor refugees. As a result, those in private sponsoring groups are in the odd position of having to compete for a sparse number of available refugees.

Harper won’t budge

Up until now, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stayed the course, resettling fewer than 2,500 Syrians based on promises made since 2013. But that resolve has begun to crack under pressure from the United Nations and from its own citizens. The government more recently announced plans to accept a total of 20,000 Syrians over the next four years and promised to match donations to registered charities working to help Syrian refugees — those made by Canadians between now and the end of 2015 to a maximum of $100 million. There is also speculation about a plan to speed up the glacially slow processing of refugee claims.

What you can do

Here are some more things that you can do to help:

1. Donate to a reputable Canadian-based development organization working on this issue. Ask if they are eligible for a grant from the government in order to match your donation.

2. Become a sponsor. Privately sponsored refugees have to be sponsored by an organization or group consisting of at least five citizens or permanent residents. There are many such groups already in existence. You may choose to work through one of them or organize a new group.

3. Get political. Ask candidates for election what they and their party are prepared to do to assist with Syrian refugees. Tell them that you want action, not obfuscation or fear mongering, on this question. Tell them that for you, this is a vote-determining issue. They will understand exactly what you mean.

This piece appeared as a United Church Observer blog on September 13, 2015.


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