The federal government said on the weekend what church groups and citizens across the country have been saying for a long time — Canada can and should hurry up and welcome more Syrian refugees.
“This is welcome news,” Robert Granke, executive director of Canadian Lutheran World Relief, said Monday responding to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s announcement Saturday that 10,000 Syrian refugees the government previously promised to resettle in the next three years would instead be brought to Canada by September 2016.
“We have the capacity to take more refugees than we are, currently,” Granke said, as humanitarian aid was being packed at its Winnipeg warehouse for shipment to Syrian refugees in Jordan.
“In the last three weeks we’ve been absolutely swamped by inquiries from congregations,” said Granke. They want to know what’s required and how much money is needed to sponsor a family to come to Canada, he said.
It costs close to $6,000 to sponsor each person, and resettling them also requires an investment of time and energy, Granke said. “It’s a big commitment,” he said. “There are congregations willing to take this on.”
The Canadian Lutheran charity used to sponsor 200 families a year but had to scale back to 50 in recent years because they were allotted fewer sponsorships by the federal government, Granke said. “We have no problem scaling back up to 200 again.”
On Saturday, the federal immigration minister said Canada will increase resources in the region to speed up the processing of Syrian refugees.
That pleased Jude Kasas of the Syrian Assembly of Manitoba.
“As Canadians with relatives and friends who are directly impacted by the Syrian refugees crisis, we welcome any and all measures which allow provide safety and relief to families and individuals,” Kasas said.
“Our country has always been a welcoming place to victims of war and people and in despair. A humanitarian crisis must not merely be an election campaign score. We urge our government to reconsider and take the lead in accepting a fare share number of refugees as advised by the UN and simplifying the process and requirements of private sponsorship.”
Granke said Jordan, where Canadian Lutheran World Relief has workers on the ground and Canada has an embassy in Amman, can process and approve privately sponsored refugees more quickly than in Lebanon and Turkey.
It will take an estimated six months for a refugee in Jordan to be processed and screened to come to Canada, said Granke.
Refuge Winnipeg, a group that’s sponsoring three large Syrian families in a refugee camp in Lebanon, has waited more than a year for them to arrive in Canada. The adults and children are expected to land in Winnipeg by early October, Rev. Loraine MacKenzie-Shepherd said in an email Sunday. The coalition of different faith groups, Manitoba Syrians and private donors has raised just over $90,000 and needs $120,000 for the families’ resettlement.
Meantime, winter is coming for millions of refugees who fled their homes with what they could carry.
Canadian Lutheran World Relief today is shipping a container of humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan. It contains handmade quilts and blankets, clothing, school supplies, hygiene supplies like soap and toothpaste, and baby supplies like diapers. The items were donated by contributors to the Lutherans’ We Care program. The shipment includes 7,000 sweaters from a 2013 drive that brought in over 80,000 sweaters from across the country.
“The needs are huge,” said Granke.