Moderator Urges Prime Minister to Respond Immediately and Generously to Syrian Refugee Crisis

The Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario Canada K1A 0A6

September 3, 2015

Re: Letter from the Moderator of The Presbyterian Church in Canada re Syrian Refugees

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

Greetings on behalf of the 141st General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, which was held June 4-8, 2015 in Vancouver, BC.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder with Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The church’s commitment to assisting refugees goes back to the 19th century and was augmented after the Second World War with the creation of The Committee on Inter-Church Aid, Refugees, and World Service, which is today Presbyterian World Service & Development, our denomination’s development and relief agency. Many Presbyterian congregations across the country welcome refugees, support refugee relief efforts and currently have sponsorship applications being processed.

There are over 19.5 million refugees worldwide. Syrians have overtaken Afghans as the largest refugee population, aside from Palestinians. We are seeing the dramatic consequences as millions of Syrians have fled their home country and millions more are internally displaced. We grieve with all who mourn the senseless loss of life as people flee violence and seek safe haven.

Canada must do more to respond to this crisis. The General Assembly adopted a motion “urging that the number of Government-sponsored refugees be increased to, at a minimum, match the number of privately sponsored refugees.” The Church is concerned that Canada is not playing its traditional role in responding to UNHCR resettlement appeals, and thus is not fulfilling its international responsibilities. Rather, the government is putting too much of the onus of the Canadian response on to private sponsors. Meanwhile, there is no suggestion of a resolution to the crisis in Syria, and neighbouring countries are doing much, much more than their fair share to accommodate refugees. It is our hope that our government will act immediately and generously to upgrade its response to the UNHCR’s resettlement requests.

Many Syrians in Canada are contacting our national office seeking private sponsorship for their relatives overseas. Some are members of Presbyterian churches; others are simply looking for any organization that will help. Action Réfugiés Montréal, who is implementing The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s sponsorship agreement with the Government of Quebec, is responding to similar requests. Canada must implement special measures to allow for immediate reunification with family members in Canada. Syrian Canadians should not have to wait while their relatives perish or remain in dangerous and unsettled situations overseas.

While the Syrian refugee crisis is continuing to unfold, we are acutely aware that there are refugees in many parts of the world and many of them are looking to Canada and Canadians for a future of hope. As Canada responds to the Syrian refugee crisis, it is important that our support to Syrians not displace efforts to resettle refugees from other world regions.

The number of refugees in the Middle East and worldwide continues to increase. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is struggling to meet the needs of vulnerable people, many of whom are women and children. The Presbyterian Church in Canada has been responding through Presbyterian World Service & Development with humanitarian assistance in Syria and in neighbouring countries. The church is grateful that Canada has been supporting the UNHCR with record grants to help it meet the humanitarian needs of Syrian and other refugees. However, recognizing the needs, the members of the General Assembly resolved also to “urge that Canada increase its annual contribution to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.”

As Christians, we heed the call from Jesus Christ to seek ways to welcome the stranger, to protect the vulnerable and to affirm the dignity of all. This is the heart of the Church’s ministry with refugees. We are not asking Canada to deal with just one aspect of this crisis, but we are asking Canada to do significantly more in refugee resettlement and humanitarian assistance.

I look forward to your response.

The Reverend Karen R. Horst
Moderator of the 141st General Assembly

Cc: The Hon. Chris Alexander, Minister of Immigration
The Hon. Christian Paradis, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie

Image of arrow pointing downModerator’s Letter to the Prime Minister on Syrian Refugee Crisis
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Please visit the website of our development and relief agency, PWS&D, at http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/refugee-sponsorship/ to find more information regarding PCC as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder as well as a document outlining the process to sponsor a refugee, titled “PCC Sponsorship Information.”

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Comments

  1. Barry Mack

    Too bad we didn’t address this as an Assembly in June. It is good that the Moderator can address emergent issues (bravo!) – but this crisis has been around for years. It is too bad that we only seem to react to media pressure. Surely we have other sources of information on the basis of which we can make judgments about global developments and then decide on appropriate responses.

    It would be interesting to know about what German churches have been saying and doing in the past few years on this issue – and the effect this may have had on Chancellor Merkel’s public pronouncements and decisions. Governments rarely act in a political vacuum. I bet she has a pretty clear idea of the willingness of churches and perhaps other institutions to absorb (i.e. assimilate) immigrants.

    • Michelle Kortinen

      The 141st GA adopted the following motion: That the Moderator, and members of the church, be encouraged to write to the Government of Canada urging that the number of Government-sponsored refugees be increased to match, at minimum, the number of privately sponsored refugees. The letter that was sent to the Prime Minister was a result of the Assembly’s decision this year.

  2. J David & A Cathy Knox

    As members of First Presbyterian Church, Collingwood ON, we applaud you as our Moderator for writing this letter to our Prime Minister and to his cabinet ministers, whose portfolios relate to this very serious human crisis. Yes, government funds should match all funds raised by the Canadian population and our institutions, including the Presbyterian Church of Canada.

  3. Linda J Martin

    Thank you Karen! Well said! What was the government’s response? Peace

  4. Mary Helen Garvin

    I did not know that the PCC is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder with Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Is there an outline of the process for sponsoring a family for Presbyterians? Great letter to our PM. Thanks.

    • Michelle Kortinen

      Please visit the website of our development and relief agency, PWS&D, at http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/refugee-sponsorship/ to find more information regarding PCC as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder as well as a document outlining the process to sponsor a refugee, titled PCC Sponsorship Information.

  5. Trudy Smit

    As an immigrant myself I thank our moderator and the Presbyterian church to take a stand and encourage our government to make it easier to welcome refugees to our country and encourage congregations to welcome the “stranger” in our midst..

  6. Rev. Wally Whyte and wife Grace

    As a couple who assisted in sponsoring 2 Boat People families, we agree with principles of the above suggestions.

  7. Wilma Welsh

    Thank you Karen for a very strong letter to the Government of Canada. One child on the beach represents many children who have lost and continue to lose their lives in the Syrian crisis. Their families are trying to find a safe haven for their children and a life with hope that they do not presently have.. Hopefully our government will allow us to help and we encourage them to act with compassion. Paper work seems to be a major issue for congregations, also the time it takes to get the envelope opened in Ottawa.. .

  8. As chair of the Mission & Outreach Committee of St. Andrews, Scarborough, I, along with our whole congregation, praise and thank Reverend Karen Horst for sending her letter to Prime Minister Harper. We agree wholeheartedly with her statements and also agree with the comments above. We are involved with Pickering Presbytery’s efforts in waiting for 5 refugee families from Syria. We are ready and waiting for them!

  9. Timothy Ferrier

    Thank You Moderator for representing us on this important issue.
    But we should also take seriously personally writing our own MP’s on this important issue during this election. .

  10. Emma Duncan

    Thank you Rev. Horst! May God continue to bless you during your term as Moderator.

  11. Liz Stark

    Bravo – but we also need to hold their feet to the fire about the tremendous burden of paperwork which needs to be completed before the refugee family even gets “a foot in the door”. Why can the government not send representatives to the camps where many refugees live and do the processing there? And for that matter why not use the armed forces to do airlifts of approved refugees, as happened in the time of the “Boat People”.

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