CNS PHOTO | MUHAMMAD HAMED, REUTERS
Syrian refugees rest after they crossed into Jordan with their families from Syria.
As refugees from Syria's civil war continue to stream into Lebanon, Jordan and other countries, Canadian Catholics are pushing hard to respond on two fronts.
Catholic refugee sponsors are beginning to review refugee profiles to compile a list of families that parishes and religious communities could sponsor for resettlement in Canada.
The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace is funneling aid through Caritas Syria, Caritas Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey to support more than 1.5 million refugees who will not be resettled in the West.
"Syrians are fleeing, particularly the Christians," Martin Mark, executive director of the Toronto Archdiocese's Office for Refugees, told The Catholic Register on returning from the region July 5.
Mark spent nearly three weeks touring the region and meeting with United Nations and humanitarian organizations to assess the situation and meet with refugees. He's come home with a file of 400 potential sponsorship cases, which should be whittled down to about 100 cases over the summer.
While Toronto churches and religious communities can take about 100 cases, others will be offered to dioceses across Canada that are part of the Catholic Refugee Sponsors' Council.
While in Beirut, Mark saw hundreds of refugees lining up daily to be registered at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees office, but many more were entirely outside the official refugee system. Refugees have begun setting up their own camps without UN assistance. Others have moved into existing Palestinian refugee camps.
While the Syrian uprising was not initially sectarian, Mark saw more and more evidence of lines being drawn between religious groups.
As foreign, jihadist fighters enter the fray and impose versions of sharia law in areas they control, Christians have faced greater dangers. One case Mark hopes to find a sponsor for is an 18-year-old convert to Christianity who witnessed the bombing of his school and home.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada plans on resettling 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014. While the government itself will sponsor 200 cases through the government-assisted refugees program, it will rely on private sponsors, mostly churches, to take on the other 1,100.
Immigration officials would make no predictions about how long it will take to process privately sponsored Syrian refugees.
"It is too soon to predict timelines, but CIC will process these applications as quickly as possible," the CIC media relations department said in an email to The Register.
Given the frustration parishes have faced waiting three years or more for Iraqi refugees, Mark is adamant CIC will have to do better with the Syrian refugees. "We want these refugees to come in a year, max," he said.
The most immediate help for refugees will be delivered through the international Caritas network. Development and Peace has committed $300,000 of its emergency funds.
Inside Syria, Development and Peace funds are helping out with everything from bedding to stoves for 1,600 families. A partner in Turkey is getting food baskets to refugees stuck on the border and all the way into Aleppo inside Syria.
Caritas Jordan is helping with primary health care for 3,500 patients plus 1,500 more at risk. Caritas Jordan aid also goes to refugees who aren't registered with UNHCR.
Fundraising for Syria has been a "tough sell," said Development and Peace spokesperson Kelly Di Domenico. So far its Syria appeal has raised just $75,000. The organization has dipped into its emergency funds and it landed $525,000 in March from CIDA for health work in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and Mount Lebanon region.
"There are more needs now," Di Domenico said in an email. "At the moment, most of the Caritas Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are preparing proposals so that they can increase the amount of support they are providing to Syrian refugees.
"Our hope and intention is to support these proposals through funds we raise with our current appeal."
Donations to Development and Peace's emergency appeal for Syria can be made online at www.devp.org or by phoning 1-888-234-8533. All parishes in the
Edmonton Archdiocese will hold a special collection prior to Sept. 15.