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Canadian churches: Helping Syrian refugees in Canada and far away

It’s been an amazing thing to watch over the past few months – across Canada, churches from all denominations have decided to sponsor Syrian refugees.

It’s a big commitment. It can cost between $30,000 to $50,000 to sponsor one refugee family for a year. But many congregations are not deterred; some are signing up for more than one family.

This response is a good, right, proper, Christian and Canadian thing to do. Everyone who is stepping up to help bring Syrian refugees to Canada is to be commended.

But while Canada has committed to resettling as many as 25,000 Syrian refugees, there are millions more from that country who are in desperate need of help in places like Lebanon and Jordan, or within Syria itself.

These are people who don’t want to move to Canada or Europe. They want to stay closer to Syria, so they can go back home when the war ends. But they are in danger of being forgotten.

Currently, there are an estimated three million Syrians who have fled for safety in neighbouring countries. Over six million are internally displaced within Syria itself. These are people like Omar [not his real name], who escaped Syria three years ago with his wife.

They settled in Amman, Jordan, where Omar found work as a chef in a local restaurant. But when he was reported for working illegally, he was fired. Now the 31 year-old is jobless, and unable to cover the basic needs of his wife and their two-year-old son.

“I feel so desperate and helpless,” he told the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. “If my wife or child gets sick here, I can’t even afford to take them to the hospital. Imagine how it feels not being able to take care of your family.”

Now Omar feels that they have no other choice but to join the almost one million others who have made the perilous trip to Europe – the decreasing levels of humanitarian support, limited future prospects for children, and lack of work make it impossible for him to think of staying.

Plans to rebuild
Like Omar, the majority of Syrian refugees don’t want to leave for new homes far away. They hope to go home one day, when the war finally ends, to rebuild their lives.

But with almost all the attention in Canada focused on helping to bring refugees here, it’s hard for international aid organizations, like Canadian Foodgrains Bank, to raise awareness and funds to help meet the needs of the millions of Syrians in desperate situations in the region. 

This doesn’t mean Canadian churches should stop helping to bring Syrian refugees to Canada – far from it! But perhaps there is a way they can do both.

How can they do that? Here’s an idea: If your church has generously decided to sponsor Syrian refugees, consider adding an extra 10 percent to the amount you need to raise to that total. In many cases, this could be an additional $3,000 to $5,000.

Since it costs Canadian Foodgrains Bank just $13.50 to provide supplemental food for one Syrian refugee in Lebanon or Jordan for a month through its member agencies, or $67.50 a month for a family of five, the extra money your church raises would be enough to “sponsor” another three to six families for a year.

By adding something extra to the amount raised to bring refugees to Canada, Canadian churches can provide food, shelter, water and other necessities for many more families who have fled Syria to Lebanon and Jordan, or who are displaced in Syria itself.

And for those churches that are too small or lack the resources to sponsor a refugee family, they can do something, too; a donation to help Syrians who need assistance in the region can go along way – and enable help them offer Christian care to many more people further away.

Again, it is encouraging to see the generous response of so many congregations to help bring Syrian refugees to Canada. But it is also vital that Canadians continue to remember and support the millions of displaced Syrians still living in the region – those who hope to go home one day to rebuild their shattered country and lives.

  • John has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News. This article originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press at

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