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JIAS can’t help refugees unless Canada issues emergency directive

Des Moine airport protest
JIAS Refugees Des Moine Airport protest. PHIL ROEDER, FLICKR

JIAS Toronto has received numerous calls from groups in the United States that were hoping to sponsor refugees, but whose plans have been thrown into disarray after U.S. President Donald Trump announced a refugee ban Jan. 27.

“We’ve been getting calls from Jewish groups in the United States wondering if they were able to refer groups here,” said Janis Roth, JIAS Toronto’s executive director. “People are reacting with great upset.”

But unless Canada issues a new emergency directive on refugees, JIAS is unable to provide any assistance to refugees who have applied, or been approved by, the U.S. immigration process, Roth said in an interview.


One U.S. group that had contacted her was expecting a refugee family to arrive Feb. 7, she said.

JIAS Toronto has also received phone calls from U.S. groups that were raising money for refugees, whose arrival is now in limbo.

JIAS can accept donations from the United States, but they cannot be directed to a specific refugee family, Roth said.

Trump’s executive order, which stranded thousands of travellers and provoked protests in several U.S. airports, suspends the entry of all refugees for 120 days; bars Syrian refugees indefinitely; and blocks entry for 90 days for citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and Syria.   

The order has been condemned by all denominations of Judaism and major Jewish Canadian organizations.

In the United States, 1,900 rabbis have signed a letter to elected leaders, appealing to them to keep the doors open to refugees, according to HIAS, a national Jewish refugee agency.

JIAS Toronto is a sponsorship agreement holder (SAH), one of about 100 in Canada and the only Jewish agency, which provides support and resettlement services for private groups sponsoring refugees. By the end of this month, JIAS Toronto will have received 100 of the 140 Syrian refugees who had been approved for private sponsorship, said Lia Kisel, JIAS’ language and settlement director.

JIAS, like other SAHs, is still waiting to learn how many private sponsorships it will be allocated this year, a number that is usually released in January or February. The agency had submitted its request last year, keeping in mind that it still had families from 2016 on a waiting list, Roth said,

The Canadian government has said it will not increase refugee quotas for 2017. Canada is projected to accept 40,000 refugees this year, which includes 16,000 privately sponsored refugees.


Canada is also a signatory to the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires people to be sent back across the border if they claim refugee status in Canada after entering from the United States.

Roth said she expects her agency will continue to receive phone calls and emails from American groups affected by the immigration order, which has already been the subject of several court challenges and revisions.

“As it becomes clearer what the policies are, those assisting refugees will be determined to try and find other routes,” she said.

The advocacy will need to come from those committed to refugee issues, she said.

Refugees “are extremely vulnerable and dependent on the kindness and support of others. It’s a terrible group to do anything against.”