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A Canadian Interfaith Response to the Refugee Crisis

On Tuesday February 5th, the Darchei Noam congregation in partnership with the Intercultural Dialogue Institute held a panel discussion on the Canadian response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis. The master of ceremony for the evening was Debbie Michnick, from the Interfaith Dialogue Committee at Congregation Darchei Noam. Opening remarks were given by Darchei Noam’s Rabbi, Tina Grimberg, Nuray Gunel of IDI, and John Voorpostel, who is the Steering Committee Chair for the World Interfaith Harmony week in Toronto.

Once opening remarks and welcomes were completed, the panelists spoke on their respective roles and organizations that have been active in sponsoring and resettling refugees. Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail was the chair for the evening and provided extra information of the larger picture; appropriately, he provided the current affairs and historical perspective.

Naomi Alboim is the chair of Queen’s University’s School of Policy Studies and on the board of directors at Lifeline Syria.. Lifeline Syria began recently and had humbler goals than what the project has grown into. Their initial plan to complement the work of primarily faith-based private sponsors expanded greatly when the image of Alan Kurdi was spread and the tone of the election shifted. “It is not difficult to substitute the word Syrian or Muslim for the word Jew, to know why we are doing what we are doing,” she said.

Habeeb Alli, of the International Development and Relief Foundation, spoke of the Muslim response. As Imam, he stresses that the Muslim faith should not be a hindrance to refugee resettlement, but a plus. He touched on the opinion that there are many minorities who certainly deserve security, but that this should not mean that equally deserving majority should not be receiving help.

Martin Mark, who is the Director for the Office of Refugees at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto spoke about the Catholic response to the Syrian refugee crisis. He spoke about the trips the Archdiocese had taken to Syria in 2011, to help with the one million Iraqi refugees who were in Syria. It was at this time that they began to realize that the conflict in the north of the country was not the usual conflict. He spoke of Project Hope, which was a way to ensure that one hundred families who had no outside ties would get help through private sponsorship that would otherwise not have been available to them.

During the question and answer session, the panelists spoke on how best to integrate refugees, by taking away their feeling of impermanence and giving them incentive to invest in their communities, while integrating them into the education and employment systems.

They touched on the different roles and approaches of private sponsorship and government sponsorship. Naomi Alboim commented that a mix of the two works best together. Dough Saunders provided perspective on the situation in Europe, while Habeeb Alli explained that there were nuances to interacting with refugees who had just been through traumatic experiences. Martin Mark stressed that if people needed to manage their expectations of what integration into a society actually means.

Reported by Jackie Kovacs (Click here for a longer version of the report)
Keywords: Interfaith, refugee, Canada

A report about this event also appeared in Canadian Jewish News (CJN) on February 11, 2016. (Click here to be directed to CJN’s webs site)

By Toronto Star, City Nights, 13 February 2016