As more countries in the European Union close their gates to Syrian refugees, Saskatchewan humanitarians are working to get more families accepted into Canada.
Elaine Harder, a refugee program coordinator with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), wants to set up more Syrian families with sponsors in Saskatchewan.
The group, which holds a national agreement in Canada, provides humanitarian assistance to families around the world.
“We’ll be trying to help as many people as we can,” Harder said.
“We’ll be trying to help as many people as we can.” – Elaine Harder
Harder said those wanting to get involved can donate to the cause, consider sponsoring a refugee or volunteer to settle refugees locally.
Lately, the movement has been getting more attention with intensified media coverage in the West. When Harder saw the photograph of the Syrian boy’s body washed up on the shore of Turkey, she said she reacted with dismay just like anyone else.
“I’m pretty horrified by those kinds of images but I also understand that those are the kinds of images that are there for many, many families around the world, hundreds of families each day,” Harder said.
She said it was shocking enough to get attention and help propel the cause further, to some degree.
“No one wants to see someone die on route to try to secure some safety for themselves or their families,” she said.
Harder said since the boy’s death, people have stepped up all over the province looking to help.
“Many more individuals, many community groups, church groups, all kinds of people,” she said.
The group hopes to increase sponsorship by double or more. Recently, fewer families are being processed, but in the past Harder said they’ve had 20 to 30 people sponsorships being processed at a time.
Now, they are finding lots of red tape in their way.
“If we have named sponsorships, it takes a lot longer,” she said.
If a Canadian wants to sponsor family members from Syria, or other countries of asylum, the process is delayed because they have to assess if the request is credible. Secondly, the parties will be interviewed by the visa officer, which Harder said can take some time.
For those wanting to help out families unknown to them, the whole thing seems to run more smoothly, she said. Currently, the focus is on Syria, but before that there have been many other families at risk the group has helped.
“What we set are priorities,” explained Harder. “We look at populations of people that are in crisis and try and bring as many people who fall into those vulnerable groups like women in risk, people with large families, people with medical issues, those kinds of priorities.”
Over the years, Harder estimates she’s helped hundreds of families.
“I’ve been involved for 25 to 26 years and I would say 400 or 500 families,” she said.
She said they do not set numerical targets, but do have high hopes.
For more information on sponsoring a family or helping out locally, call the MCC office at 306-665-2555 or visit their website.