One of the most exciting and innovative social justice initiatives to emerge in Canada this past year has been the formation of the Jewish Refugee Action Network

Gina Csanyi-Robah

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Oct 20, 2014

Open letter to Prime Minister Harper from the Jewish – Refugee Action Network about Syrian Refugees

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October 16, 2014

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Open letter to Prime Minister Harper from the Jewish – Refugee Action Network about Syrian Refugees

Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

We are writing on behalf of the Jewish – Refugee Action Network (JRAN) to urge your government to take immediate and comprehensive action to help Syrian refugees at this time of crisis. Our organization is deeply concerned that recent government policy in our country has largely turned its back on Syrian refugees, and Canadians of Syrian origin who are desperately trying to sponsor their family members.

This latest issue is part of a wider concern JRAN has over policies we believe place refugees at risk and disrupt Canada's humanitarian values and traditions. These include changes made in 2012 to Canada's refugee determination system and refugee health care coverage. In fact, those changes were the impetus for JRAN to come into being as a national organization.  As a Jewish initiative that invites multi-faith and multi-cultural support, JRAN brings together individuals from diverse backgrounds who share deep concerns about recent damaging changes to Canada’s policies and laws governing refugee health and refugee protection. 

In our opinion, we have not witnessed such a state of affairs since the days immediately prior to World War II when Canada became infamous for a refugee policy that purposely excluded Jews fleeing Eastern Europe. Canadian historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper have documented our government's dark refusal to admit Jews as an anti-Semitic policy. Indeed, an unnamed bureaucrat when asked in 1938 how many Jews should Canada allow into the country replied "None is too many".

 

In the decades following World War II Canada developed our much celebrated humanitarian tradition: We opened our doors to refugees fleeing Vietnam, Cambodia, Hungary, and Iraq, among others. We resettled survivors of war and tyrannical regimes and did so efficiently and successfully. In 1986, the People of Canada won the United Nations’ Nansen Medal “for the major and sustained contribution” to the cause of refugees.

We cannot accept that today our government is saying no to more than a minimal number of Syrian refugees. We cannot stay silent while our government is mired in excuses and red tape. Sweden, Germany and other rich countries are acting decisively and with generosity to settle some of the 3 million women, men, and children who have fled the war-torn nation.  

We recognize the importance of effective security screening for any applicants to Canada. However, more than three years into the Syrian civil war, there is no justification for the growing litany of excuses. Canadians remain a compassionate people. Sponsorship agreement holders, faith based groups, and ordinary Canadians have stepped up to the plate.  Unfortunately, government created bureaucratic red tape and other barriers have resulted in multi-year processing delays, so that we have still not met the already exceptionally modest government quota of 200 government sponsored and 1,100 privately sponsored refugees.  As a result, even the Syrian refugees selected by Canada languish in deplorable conditions in refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, and even Iraq.

As a wealthy and peaceful country, we have a shared international responsibility to be a safe haven for refugees and to treat them with fairness. As Jewish Canadians, we join other faith groups, legal organizations, and settlement workers in calling on our government to do our share for the vulnerable people fleeing Syria. Specifically:

1.         To put in place flexible provisions to allow family members of Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and recognized refugees to enter Canada by issuing Temporary Resident Permits, with the possibility of access to permanent residence later.

2.         In close consultation and coordination with sponsorship agreement holders, to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees from refugee camps within the next year. The UNHCR recently requested countries to settle 100,000 Syrian refugees. Canada has traditionally agreed to resettle 10 per cent of UNHCR requests.

3.         That all pending applications for Syrian refugees be processed expeditiously, and that in no case should the processing of a refugee claim take more than one year.

4.         That processing of Syrians not replace or divert any resources from other refugee or family reunification programs.

Refugees from Syria cannot afford to lose any more time. People are in crisis, and the world is watching. Prime Minister, the government must act now. We would be pleased to meet with you or members of your staff to further discuss this urgent issue.

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Yours very truly,

 

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv
Rivka Augenfeld
David Berger, former Ambassador to Israel
Dr. Philip Berger
Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld
Bernie Farber
Mitchell Goldberg
Valerie Hyman
Michele Landsberg, OC
Maureen Silcoff
Jon Telch

Ken Rosenberg

 

On behalf of the Jewish – Refugee Action Network

cc:        Hon. Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Email: Chris.Alexander@parl.gc.ca

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe, NDP Critic for Citizenship and Immigration
Email: Lysane.Blanchette-Lamothe@parl.gc.ca

Hon. John McCallum, Liberal Critic for Citizenship and Immigration
Email: john.mccallum@parl.gc.ca

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