As President Barack Obama pushes back against a chorus of anti-refugee sentiments in the United States, a New York Times article Thursday shows that for our neighbors to the north, “refugees welcome” is more than just a campaign slogan: it's a promise that is being kept.
“Across Canada, ordinary citizens, distressed by news reports of drowning children and the shunning of desperate migrants, are intervening in one of the world’s most pressing problems,” Damon Winters writes.
In fact, as Canada aims to relocate 25,000 refugees across the country, The Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program offers Canadians a way to directly contribute to the growing humanitarian crisis. The number is paltry compared to the need—as many as 21 million refugees have been displaced from their homes—but it more than doubles the measly 10,000 who are being welcomed in the U.S.
“You or your group can sponsor refugees from abroad who qualify to come to Canada,” the Canadian government’s website reads. “As a sponsor, you provide financial and emotional support for the refugees for the duration of the sponsorship. This includes help for housing, clothing and food. Most sponsorships last for one year, but some refugees may be eligible for assistance from their sponsors for up to three years.”
European countries and the United States continue to struggle with balancing their obligations to assist refugees and a citizenry that feels increasingly crippled by the influx of migrants into their borders. But in Canada, Winters notes, the government “can barely keep up with the demand to welcome” the men, women, and children who’ve been displaced by growing violence in the Middle East.
“I can’t provide refugees fast enough for all the Canadians who want to sponsor them,” Canadian immigration minister John McCallum, told the Times.
Many volunteers were called into action late last year, after a harrowing picture surfaced of a 3-year old Syrian, Alan Kurdi, who drowned when his boat capsized off the coast of Turkey; his family was intending to seek asylum in Canada, where Kurdi’s aunt lives. As Winters notes, the toddler’s death “caused recrimination so strong it helped elect an idealistic, refugee-friendly prime minister, Justin Trudeau.”
The sponsorship program doesn’t come without its naysayers, of course. Though the refugees relocated in Canada are thoroughly screened, Winters writes, “American officials point out that it is very difficult to track activity in the chaotic, multifaceted Syrian war. Several Islamic State members involved in the 2015 Paris attacks arrived on Europe’s shores from Syria posing as refugees.”
But for many Canadians, the benefits of sponsoring a family far outweigh the potential costs. And for refugees, the support espoused by sponsors is both unfamiliar and life-affirming. “A human life has value here,” refugee Muaz Ballani told the Times. “You can feel it everywhere.”
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