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01 November, 2015

THREE RELIGIONS COME TOGETHER TO RELOCATE A REFUGEE FAMILY : WONDERFUL EXAMPLE OF UNIVERSAL HUMANITY AT WORK IN CANADA



The common values decreed by the great religions, such
as “love your neighbor as yourself,” are universalized
as the next step of human behavior beyond any dogma.
I cannot bring myself to be either pro or con when it comes to the issue of immigration in Canada. I am prepared to trust that our new government will do what is right and in the humane interest of all Canadians -- old and new. I also place trust in the new selection system for immigration to Canada that separates the "good" from the "bad" of the would-be Canadian citizens.  " Express Entry", which came into effect exactly a year ago, changed how Canadian immigration is managed by moving it from a supply-driven system to a demand-driven one and, as such, new screening practices have been implemented to catch those whose entry applications are ill-conceived or dangerously politically motivated. 

What bothers me, however, is the unhealthy division, hate and venom that this matter has generated in the buildup to the federal election.  American-style, cruel, insensitive things have been expressed in the public realm without due consideration given to the ramifications on our national identity. I strongly contend that we must ensure that immigration enforcement is conducted in a humane manner that respects human dignity. That is what we have to continually impress upon our members of parliament.

A Canadian election campaign that began amid widespread concern over a faltering economy turned into a national referendum on the rights of immigrants. The so-called “niqab issue”, inspired by the ruling party’s legal campaign to prevent one Pakistani immigrant from veiling her face during the ceremony held to formalize her new citizenship, remains powerfully divisive even after the October 19 election.

Although polls show that a substantial majority of Canadians supported the government position, opponents have denounced it as a dangerous and even “disgusting” attack on the country’s fragile multicultural harmony. The matter, in my mind, boils down to rights that can only be settled in Canadian courts. Meantime, the real needs of refugees were pushed to the backgound.

As the debate heightened, there was a tendency in some quarters to paint all immigrants with the same "they want to come here and change our country" brush. Forgotten in the concern for national security, was the fact that there is an immediate desperate need to relocate displaced Iraqi and Syrian refugees in western countries, including Canada. Truth be known, just one per cent of the 630,000 Syrian refugees and about five per cent of the 50,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan stand a chance of being resettled in a new home in the West. The rest are expected to wait out the war, and then return to the devastation and certain unrest that will exist in their homelands.

It has been my contention that Canadian religions should be playing a more active role in all of this and I was encouraged to read a Toronto Star item today by Nicholas Keung, a native of Hong Kong who writes about immigration, refugee, migrant and diversity issues.  In his report Nicholas tells about members of Maple Grove United Church and Shaarei Beth-El synagogue in Oakville and Mississauga's Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) mosque, coming together to give a family of seven from Jordan a new life in Canada.

Christians, Jews and Muslims do not always share a common cause, especially in the Middle East, but this is most certainly a case of the three groups finding friendship in their goal of serving humanity through a Syrian refugee sponsorship group called Abraham's Children Together. Although they already had a working relationship through the Interfaith Council of Halton (County) they were brought together earlier this year by the Canadians in Support of Refugees in Dire Need, a grassroots Muslim organization formed in response to the refugee crisis in Europe.

"This is what organized religions can do," said Rev. Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes of Maple Grove.  "We are all brothers and sisters in terms of our origins. We felt that we could make a statement to the family leaving behind conflicts and coming to our country, where all the Abrahamic religions bond together out of active love (an allusion to the fact that all three religions are based on the teachings of the Prophet Abraham)."

The project was not without skeptics in the beginning, admits Rabbi Stephen Wise.  Some members of his congregation were hesitant about helping people from Syria, a longtime enemy of Israel.  Then there was the United Church of Canada's decision to boycott products made or linked to Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.  

"There was initially some discomfort in working with other groups," Rabbi Wise said, "but we have built strong bonds and trust with the United Church and the Muslim community over the years through honest dialogue.  Most of us (Jews) came to this country as Holocaust survivors...In the 1930s we were the refugees...The world turned its back on Jews, we just cannot do that to somebody else today."

The project set out to raise $27,000 but has so far received $120,000 in donations.

Dr. Aliya Khan of Canadians in Support of Refugees in Dire Need (CSRDN), an endocrinologist and professor at McMaster University, says she likes the idea of religions bonding together in an act of generosity, especially for a family fleeing conflict in their homeland.  She hopes this initiative will show the world how different faith groups can work together and live in peace through universal humanity.

CSRDN is an organization dedicated to upholding the principles of peace, justice and mercy towards all irrespective of race, colour or religion. It assists in the arrival of refugees to Canada and in their resettlement and integration into Canadian society.  The organization also supports the government in bringing relief internationally and in providing an opportunity for a new life and hope for those in desperate need.

To my mind, we should remember that refugees do not have ulterior motives at times of crises.  They do not abandon their homes out of choice, and they are not unaware of the risks they face.  It is out of desperation that they flee war and torture, misery and poverty and persecution, seeking only a safe haven for their children and families in a country that was built on the immigration of people just like them over the course of the past couple of centuries.

It is up to you and me to show newcomers to our country that the Canadian way is the best way.

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