Home News Canada Jewish and church groups sponsor Eritrean refugee from Israel

Jewish and church groups sponsor Eritrean refugee from Israel

Migrants line up to visit a clinic in Tel Aviv. (Rami Salomon, Kineret Levi/Physicians for Human Rights - Israel/CC BY-SA 2.0)

As the month of June comes to an end, Daniel Schild is keeping a close eye on the amount of money being raised.

The goal is to bring in $15,000 – close to the amount the government of Canada requires private organizations to have on hand, as a condition of bringing a single refugee into the country.

Earlier in the month, Schild, a representative of Canadians Helping Asylum Seekers in Israel (CHAI) – was confident that sources within the Jewish community would come up with the funds, so the group could bring Amar, a 21-year-old Eritrean man, to Canada from Israel. Fifty donors had made pledges to give money, including a group of 12 rabbis from various streams of Judaism. The money is coming out of each rabbi’s discretionary funds, he said.

It could take as long as two years for the immigration process to be completed, but what makes Amar’s case unique is that CHAI is co-operating with two Christian groups to bring him over.


One is an Anglican church in Thornhill, Ont., which is acting as Amar’s official sponsor, while AURA, which represents the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, is the Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH), the agency that assists in the sponsorship and resettlement of the refugees.

Amar (his surname is being withheld at the request of AURA) is one of an estimated 37,000 African asylum seekers who have fled to Israel over the past 10 years from Eritrea and Sudan, escaping tyranny and genocide in their homelands. The Israeli government considers them “infiltrators” and economic migrants who have no legal right to remain in the country.

Amar has lived in Israel since he was 14, Schild told The CJN. He travelled to the Jewish state along with other African asylum seekers, some of whom died en route. As an unaccompanied minor, he was sent to a boarding school in Israel, where he learned Hebrew and English. Moving to Tel Aviv, he took a variety of jobs, most recently in a medical clinic, translating between the Eritrean language and Hebrew.

An Israeli woman who worked with Eritreans knew of CHAI and suggested it consider sponsoring Amar. Through its network in Toronto, CHAI brought the church and AURA on board, Schild said.

African asylum seekers are loaded onto a bus headed for the Holot detention centre, in Israel in 2014. (Rudychaimg/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-4.0)

Like other Africans, Amar’s future in Israel is uncertain, at best.

After closing its southern border to prevent the further migration of African asylum seekers, Israel has taken several controversial steps to entice those already there to leave the country. At first, it offered Africans US$3,500 ($4,650) and a ticket to unnamed African countries, widely believed to be Uganda and Rwanda.

That measure fell apart when reports reached Israel and the Diaspora that the countries were not ready to accept them, that they were badly treated and that many who had come from Israel had fled those jurisdictions in the first place.

In April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government introduced another program that would have seen half the asylum seekers leave Israel for safe Western countries, including Canada, while normalizing the status of the half who remained. However, that plan fell apart when members of his coalition objected.

We are trying to do something that helps the asylum seekers and helps the young fellow with a new chance for life.
– Daniel Schild

For Schild, sponsoring Africans to come to Canada is the best solution to a humanitarian problem.

“We’re doing something that everybody agrees is the best solution,” he said. “We are trying to do something that helps the asylum seekers and helps the young fellow with a new chance for life, to go to university and fulfill his potential.”

At the same time, sponsoring Eritreans helps Israel address its own immigration problem, Schild added. “For us, it’s doing something positive for Israel, positive for Jewish values.”

Marin Lehmann-Bender, a sponsorship facilitator with AURA, said the organization will sponsor eight individuals from Israel this year. They account for 20 per cent of the agency’s annual allocations of private sponsorships.

African asylum seekers and human rights activists protest against deportationsin Tel Aviv on March 24. (Gili Yaari/Flash90 photo)

AURA receives thousands of requests every year to sponsor refugees. In the case of African asylum seekers living in Israel, “It’s an urgent situation where people are at the risk of deportation,” she said.

“When looking at cases, we look at the vulnerability of the people and the options they have,” she added. “It’s one of the most extreme situations right now.”

AURA operates in partnership with Anglican churches, but in three cases, including the one involving CHAI, Jewish groups are also involved, according to Lehmann-Bender.

As for Amar, the paperwork to facilitate his immigration is currently being processed and once submitted to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, his application will be sent to the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv. After that, it could take up to 24 months for Amar to actually arrive in Canada.

It’s one of the most extreme situations right now.
– Marin Lehmann-Bender

Though lengthy, his case is expected to wind its way through the system much faster than those in other locations, Lehmann-Bender said. The case of an Eritrean living in Djibouti, a small country near Eritrea, is expected to take 92 months to come to a conclusion. For another Eritrean who’s currently in Ethiopia, the process is expected to take 40 months.

As for the difficulty in finding sponsors to support single male refugees, it is definitely harder than finding people to sponsor families, Lehmann-Bender said. But “single men have demonstrated themselves to be extremely resilient and hard working. They seek out their own opportunities.

“I have a lot of confidence in the success of these single males coming from Israel.”

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