As our long winter turned to spring earlier this year, a new campaign was launched to get Torontonians excited about becoming socially and politically involved by looking outside themselves, putting out a hand, and joining a campaign bent on saving lives: Lifeline Syria.
The brainchild of a number of civically engaged high profile folks, Life-line Syria challenged Toronto to sponsor to Canada (Toronto) and support for a time, one thousand Syrians fleeing the brutal civil war that has been waging for a number of years now and has resulted in millions of Syrian refugees in surrounding countries and internally displaced persons.
The campaign is led by many who in their younger years were actively involved in what has come to be seen as a shining moment of Canadian Humanitarianism and the best expression of political will to resettle thousands of Indo-Chinese (Vietnamese) refugees across Canada. Life-line Syria aims to unleash that same social awareness and sense of urgency that resulted in thousands being successfully resettled, and now 40 years later are communities of successful Canadians.
Canada's People won the Nansen Award for this magnificent show of solidarity with the world's most vulnerable, and Lifeline Syria is another opportunity to once again forge a social contract amongst ourselves and with our governments to open our doors to those in need of asylum and protection.
This theme of Canadian Humanitarianism and Refugee Protection continues as another great idea spread across the country. This time a brainstorm from Vancouver, but with a national campaign aimed at encouraging and persuading the federal government to act, the 20K2020 We Can Do More campaign was launched earlier this summer.
With a deep commitment to making this campaign a success given the urgency of the world-wide refugee crisis, civil society organizations, faith communities and individuals concerned with refugee resettlement from across the country, have all pledged support. To bring the provinces onside as advocates for the campaign the following was written for provincial Ministers responsible for Immigration:
The purpose of the 20k2020 we can do more campaign is to engage Canadians to encourage the Government of Canada to increase the number of government assisted refugees (GARs) to 20,000 annually by 2020. Given the growing refugee crisis worldwide and the urgent call by UNHCR for over 1.150 million resettlement spaces in 2016, we believe that Canada could do more. In 1980 the Government of Canada accepted 19,233 UNHCR referred refugees or GARs for resettlement versus the current 6,500 annual target. (Chris Friesen, Director, ISS)
This campaign differs from Life-line Syria such that the campaign is about the Government of Canada increasing its own commitment over and above the critically important work that faith communities and other community sponsorship initiatives such as Operation Lifeline (or campaign Life-line Syria) undertake through privately sponsored refugees. Think of it as an “additionality” to the governments' commitment.
Some numbers for provincial distribution based on Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) refugee destination policy has been thrown around, with a low of under a hundred to under five hundred in the smaller Atlantic Provinces to about fifty-six hundred in Ontario.
OCASI is supporting both campaigns. From the many inquiries we've had from member agencies across the province wanting to engage their communities with a Life-line Syria, and the many individuals, ‘experts', and grassroots organizations signing up for 20k2020 We can Do More campaign across Canada we know that Canadians are hungry for an opportunity to engage our humanitarian traditions. We know we have an important role to play in lessening the suffering many face on a daily basis. We know that we have the resources as a country to reach out a helping hand. We know that by providing asylum we not only help those in desperate straits at present but in the long run we help ourselves as a nation as we feed our souls.
As the two campaigns garner interest across the country, this election period may be the opportunity to raise the question among ourselves as civil society and with the five parties contesting the election, particularly the bigger, national parties vying for the Prime Minister's Office: Will you reach a helping hand out to our world's most vulnerable?