Canada's Immigration Minister seeks Church aid for Iraqi refugees

  • October 28, 2010
Iraqi refugees to CanadaTORONTO - Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney is holding the gate open for Iraqi refugees another two years, and asking churches again for help.

By extending the program aimed at Iraqi refugees, Canada could welcome another 8,000 Iraqi refugees in 2012 and 2013. They would join approximately 12,000 Iraqis who will have come to Canada between 2009 and 2011.

Addressing the churches and other faith-based sponsorship agreement holders, Kenney told a Toronto news conference, “I’m asking you to get engaged. Do more. Raise more funds. Sponsor more refugees.”

During his most recent trip to the Middle East, Office for Refugees, Archdiocese of Toronto executive director Martin Mark selected 200 Iraqi refugee families for sponsorship by Toronto’s 222 parishes, religious communities and other partners. Along with dozens of parishes, Archbishop Thomas Collins is personally sponsoring an Iraqi refugee family.

The Iraqi refugee program relies on private sponsors, mainly faith communities, to resettle two-thirds of the refugees. Relying on private sponsors rather than direct government sponsorship is a cornerstone of the policy, said Kenney.

“We talk about compassion,” said Kenney. “You can’t do that by contracting out compassion to the government.”

In Canada for just three days, musician and refugee Nauroz Hassan has already discerned a difference between his new country and the one he fled.

“When we are born in our country, we have responsibilities — no rights,” he told the press conference. “Here we have rights and responsibilities.”

The music teacher was chased from Iraq by militias threatening to kill him when word leaked out about his teaching methods in music class. He had asked the girls  to tuck their hijab (head scarves) behind their ears so they could better hear their fellow musicians. What followed was a frightening home invasion in which Hassan was tied to a chair while militia members tortured his wife and mother. Hassan’s mother died as a result. His wife, Zhian Othman, accompanied him through Turkey to Sweden, where over three years they were unable to obtain any status as permanent residents.

Citing former Vietnam boat refugee Bishop Vincent Nguyen of Toronto as an example, Kenney called refugee sponsorship a vital Canadian tradition.

“As a percentage of our population, we’ve accepted more (refugees) than any country in the world,” he said.

The boat people crisis in 1979 resulted in 65,000 refugees sponsored mainly by churches. Since the Second World War Canada has accepted approximately one-million refugees.

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