It’s a weird thing when you wake up one morning and suddenly the whole world is caring about what you care about. That’s what seems to have happened this week: after a heartbreaking photo of a young Syrian boy lying dead on a beach in Turkey made headlines around the world, Canadians everywhere began talking about refugees.
For the past four years, I’ve been involved in refugee resettlement and advocacy, through volunteering with the World University Service of Canada’s Student Refugee Program at UVic, by helping organize World Refugee Day events here in Victoria, and by joining a group working to sponsor a Syrian refugee family. I’m not an expert in this field – there are others in our community who have been doing this work much longer than I and have studied refugee issues in great depth – but I wanted to share what I know about actions people can take locally, here in Victoria, to address this crisis.
Five things you can do in Victoria, BC, about the Syrian refugee crisis
- Educate yourself. Why are Syrians (and Iraqis) fleeing their country by the millions? How has Canadian military intervention and foreign policy impacted the situation in this region of the world? How has our government responded (or failed to respond)? Having this information will help you if you choose any of the following actions on the list. The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) is an excellent resource and has several backgrounders on their website regarding the Syrian refugee crisis. You may also like to read up on the Syria crisis on the UN Refugee Agency’s website (linked to the Canada branch of the UNHCR).
- Advocate that your government (and society) take action. This could take several different forms: writing letters (to MPs or your local newspaper), or attending a demonstration, for example. Here’s a demonstration happening in Victoria tomorrow, Saturday, Sept. 4 at 12 pm, downtown. If you want to advocate for specific policy changes, I again refer to the CCR who have been putting together reports recommendations on this issue for several years. Know that advocacy has led to significant movement in government’s refugee policy in the past: public pressure is credited as a key reason why the Canadian government instated the private refugee sponsorship program in response to the “boat people” crisis in the 1970s. In 1979-1980, 60,000 refugees from Vietnam were resettled. (Which goes to show you that when the government wants to do something about a refugee crisis, it can.)
- Get involved in refugee sponsorship. Canada is the only country in the world that allows citizens and permanent residents to privately sponsor and resettle refugees. The private refugee sponsorship process is not a small undertaking but it is an incredibly rewarding one. If you’re interested in starting a new sponsorship group, there will be a public information session held next Wednesday, September 9 at 8:00 pm at St. Matthias Church, 600 Richmond Rd., in Victoria. If you’d like to contribute to a sponsorship that is already underway, consider donating to this local community effort that I’m involved in to bring a Syrian family of five to Victoria. We’re still about $10,000 away from our fundraising target and expect to see the family here in a matter of months.
- If you have money, donate. You can donate to local sponsorship efforts (like the one linked to above) or others happening across the country, like Lifeline Syria (a project that aims to bring 1,000 Syrians to Toronto). Or you can donate to organizations working overseas, like Doctors Without Borders or the UNHCR.
- Keep talking about this issue. The public outcry has been swift and fierce. Let it not also be brief. Syrians have been fleeing their country since 2011, and this crisis will not be resolved in a few weeks. It will not be resolved by the time our federal election is over on October 19 and politicians have less reason to talk about what we can do for Syrians. So hold on to your outrage and your grief for the state of the world, and carry it with you. Keep your eyes out for further community events and activities that will arise. Make this something that our media and our elected officials can’t put down until serious action is taken. Share this list with someone and remind yourself and others that we are not helpless or powerless in the face of such tragedy.