Canadians face a choice about which historical narrative they’d prefer to look back on: being part of a country that closes its doors to people in need, or being part of one that welcomes them, Naomi Alboim, chair of the Policy Forum at Queen’s University School of Policy Studies, told a roomful of Jewish individuals and organizational leaders Sept. 16.
Alboim, who was head of federal refugee resettlement programs in Ontario during the Indochinese boat people crisis in 1979 and more recently was one of the founders of the organization Lifeline Syria, spoke at an information session hosted by Jewish Immigrant Aid Services (JIAS) to brief the Jewish community on JIAS Toronto’s role in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis.
Held at the Lipa Green Centre and attended by more than 100 people, the event was intended to give members of the community interested in sponsoring a Syrian refugee family or donating time or money to the cause a step-by-step breakdown of how to proceed.
Attendees included representatives from synagogues and groups such as Beth Tzedec Congregation and the Danforth Jewish Circle.
Janis Roth, executive director of JIAS Toronto, told the crowd the organization called the meeting in response to the inundation of calls it has received from people asking what JIAS Toronto is planning to do and how they can help.
“We as Jews understand what it means to be refugees,” Alboim said, explaining that 11 million Syrians have so far been displaced – seven million of them within Syria, while four million have been scattered around neighbouring countries or further afield.
The humanitarian needs are too overwhelming for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to cope with, and Canada, along with other countries, needs to step up and contribute sponsorship and resources.
“Canada alone can’t solve this problem but it can be part of a global solution. Our response to date has been woefully inadequate,” she added.
Lifeline Syria, which Alboim helped form in June, is a volunteer-run group whose goal is help recruit, train and support sponsoring organizations so that those sponsors can bring 1,000 Syrian refugees to the Greater Toronto Area.
Canadians’ immense interest in the group and the media attention it has received have convinced its founders that they’ll be able to “exceed that goal several times,” said Alboim.
Lifeline Syria sees itself as a “matchmaker” that pairs sponsoring groups with refugees, but the administrative process is complex, Alboim noted, adding that the Jewish community is lucky to have JIAS Toronto working as an umbrella group to help facilitate it.
Lia Kisel, JIAS’ language and settlement director, laid out what sponsoring a Syrian family will entail:
• An individual or group of people – this could range from a family or group of friends to a synagogue – comes together to form a “constituent group” (CG).
• The CG must present references and other details to JIAS Toronto, which functions as a “sponsorship agreement holder” under Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
• The CG and JIAS Toronto sign a memorandum of understanding that includes a detailed list of responsibilities that each will take on.
• The CG must secure 60 per cent of the sponsorship costs at this time (JIAS can issue tax receipts for these funds).
• JIAS Toronto then submits a detailed sponsorship application to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
• During the six-month period following submission of the application and prior to the refugee or refugee family’s arrival, the CG makes monthly payments to JIAS in order to cover the remaining 40 per cent of the total sponsorship costs.
• Upon the refugee’s arrival, JIAS works with the refugee family and creates a budget with the sponsorship funds for a period of 12 months from the day of arrival and will co-ordinate additional settlement and integration efforts.
CGs will also be responsible for non-financial support to the individual or family they sponsor, Kisel stressed. This might include welcoming refugees when they arrive, helping them find housing, accompanying them to medical appointments and grocery shopping, helping them register their children in school, etc.