Paying it forward: lessons learned from Syrian resettlement can prepare us for the future waves of climate change refugees.

Author:Pathberiya, Semini


Like a lot of people, I cried when I saw the photos of three-year-old Alan Kurdi who drowned in the Mediterranean during his family's attempt to find safe harbour from the horrors of the Syrian civil war. My sorrow, my grief was real, and I was moved to tears... and then to action. My response was not unique. Many Canadians channelled their grief, sorrow and tears into positive action, including record monetary donations and an unparallelled commitment to settle Syrian refugees. By late August, Statistics Canada showed 29,970 Syrians had arrived in Canada.

Waterloo Region is one of six Ontario reception centres, and about 1,275 Syrian refugees have settled in our region since the fall of 2015.

The response, quite frankly, is impressive: Waterloo Region accommodated almost 4.74 percent of the 29,970 Syrians arriving in Canada into a community with only 1.4 per cent of the nation's population. This ability to punch-above-the-weight reflects a tradition of service and a groundswell of urgent, citizen-led engagement.

Arif Virani, a Toronto MP and the parliamentary secretary to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum, praised Waterloo Region's efforts during a recent funding announcement. "That's a testament to this region and its capacity and its willingness to participate in this project and welcome newcomers," said Virani, himself a refugee who arrived in 1972.

The event itself was noteworthy. The $175,000 in funding for affordable housing for Syrian refugees came from the Welcome Fund: a partnership between the Community Foundations of Canada--and Manulife, CN and General Motors.


The Welcome Fund gift formed only part of the funding that has been raised to support Syrian Newcomers to Waterloo Region. Local community foundations stepped forward to handle the financial contributions from the community and formed The Immigration Partnership Fund for Syrian Newcomers. A matching program was announced by The Kitchener and Waterloo Community Foundation. Leveraging both The Foundation's Community Fund and fund holder support, the result was over $693,000 in donations raised to support the settlement of Syrian newcomers in Waterloo Region. The region's coalition of the good-hearted includes long-time community-supporting stalwarts like the Mennonlte Central Committee and the K-W Multicultural Centre. But it also includes several new organizations that came together, fundraised and helped Syrian families make Canada their new home.

Meanwhile, the Mennonite Central Committee is partnering with...

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