A Syrian refugee woman cries as she carries her baby through the mud to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia near the Greek village of Idomeni Sept. 10. Canadian Church leaders and organizations are demanding a stronger Canadian response to the refugee crisis. CNS photo/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters

Action demanded on refugees

  • September 16, 2015

Church leaders and organizations are demanding stronger action from the Canadian government in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Over the Sept. 13 weekend, Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller wrote to Vancouver Catholics demanding Ottawa do everything it can “to streamline its often inefficient and cumbersome refugee sponsorship application process.”

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has launched a petition asking the federal government to “increase funding for aid to Syrian victims of the crisis… actively contribute to an inclusive peace process… encourage the creation of a pluralistic and inclusive society.” In less than a week online the petition has gathered nearly 700 signatures.

Development and Peace has already sent $50,000 to assist Caritas agencies working with refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Canada’s Jesuit Fathers, both English and French speaking, have issued an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking for the “expedited arrival on Canadian soil of at least 10,000 (government-sponsored) Syrian refugees over and above the regular resettlement numbers.” The Jesuits also want full health coverage for refugees restored immediately.

“There are no ready-made answers, but certainly war is not one of them,” wrote Fr. Jean-Marc Biron and Fr. Peter Bisson, provincial superiors of the French and English-Canadian Jesuit provinces respectively. “Western governments, Canada among them, continue to believe that we can bring a lasting peace to a region by waging war. However, it has been demonstrated repeatedly that war sows seeds that grow into resentment and rage.”

Canadian Jesuits International collects money to support the Jesuit Refugee Service which runs programs inside Syria for that country’s seven million displaced people, as well as education, counselling and humanitarian relief inside refugee camps surrounding Syria.

Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, has issued an open letter to Canadian Catholics asking parishes and individuals to increase their sponsorship of refugees and to challenge politicians on the campaign trail.

“Our current federal election campaign is an important moment to engage political candidates and parties on what, if elected, they will do to assist refugees,” Durocher wrote.

In another open letter, Canadian Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton asks Canadians to live up to their tradition of responding to refugee crises.

“Canada has a long tradition of welcoming refugees, and many countries in Europe are currently welcoming refugees in large numbers,” Hamilton wrote.

Hamilton calls on Christians of all denominations to respond spiritually.

“We are called to pray for strength and creativity in the concrete implementation of compassion and care,” she wrote.

A coalition of 12 umbrella organizations, including the Canadian Council for Refugees, has released its own proposal for a quicker, more effective response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The coalition, which includes Church organizations that sponsor refugees and Church-founded refugee shelters, demands 10,000 government-sponsored refugees by the end of this year, faster processing of private (largely Church-based) sponsorships, emergency family reunifications, plus flexible and quicker issuing of temporary resident permits to Syrians with family in Canada and more money and personnel dedicated to processing refugee applications.

“Canada has the experience and the capacity to make a substantial response to the Syrian refugee crisis and Canadians have shown they have the will,” said Canadian Council for Refugees president Loly Rico in a release.

Ottawa responded on Sept. 12 by announcing it would match up to $100 million in charitable giving to recognized agencies raising money to help refugees overseas. The deadline for donations will be Dec. 31. Development and Peace has traditionally participated in such matching fund programs. Parishes, schools, businesses and clubs can all raise funds that will be matched if the money goes to a registered and recognized charity.

Since Syria’s civil war broke out in 2011 Canada has admitted fewer than 2,400 refugees in addition to granting refugee status to a small number of refugees who were already in Canada when the war started.

According to the United Nations there are 12.2 million people inside Syria who need urgent help, including 7.6 million who have been forced from their homes. More than 250,000 have been killed in the fighting, almost all of them civilians. More than four million have crossed Syria’s borders, entering Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

The Archdiocese of Toronto was already on pace to sponsor 600 refugees or refugee families from around the world this year when Cardinal Thomas Collins announced Project Hope, which will raise $3 million to finance 100 more sponsorships.

Parishes in Vancouver have submitted “several dozen sponsorships to bring in refugee families,” said Miller. The Archdiocese of Vancouver is also in the process of extending its sponsorship agreement holder status to include the Dioceses of Kamloops and Whitehorse. It already includes Victoria, Nelson and Prince George under the umbrella of its agreement with Ottawa.

In his letter to Canadian Catholics, Durocher urges people to combat prejudices and fears.

“Major obstacles facing refugees as they seek protection and shelter involve apathy, indifference, apprehensions and prejudices,” Durocher wrote. “When our hearts are fearful, our doors remain closed to others in need.”

Durocher also urges fasting, praying and meditating on Scripture.

“By meditating on the Scriptures, praying and fasting, hope is born, our love for others strengthened and our commitment to justice and charity deepened,” he wrote.

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