End refugee travel loan repayment

We all want refugees to settle well in Canada. That’s why many SK congregations and communities have sponsored so often over the years. But Canada currently asks refugees to pay back the money that the government spent on their travel to Canada.

The evidence shows that these immigration travel loans have a negative impact on refugees’ ability to settle well. The pressure to pay them back can make it difficult to pay for necessities, push refugees to find jobs before they’ve completed their language training, and add unneeded stress to already stressful transitions.

The government knows this–which is why they just stopped charging interest on the loans. But it would cost just 40 cents per Canadian to stop asking refugees to repay these loans entirely. Please join ecumenical partners in asking the government to end the loan system. Please read more here.


Children in military detention

Over the past several weeks, the high-profile detention of Ahed Tamimi has provided a glimpse into what it means to be a child held in the Israeli military detention system facing prosecution in military courts that lack basic due process protections.

This week, Canadian MP Hélène Laverdière sent a letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland highlighting Ahed was just “one of many troubling cases of military detention of children under the Israeli occupation.” She urged the Canadian government to press Israel to comply with international law around its treatment of Palestinian child detainees.

Read the letter from MP Hélène Laverdière

In the letter, Laverdière noted the widespread and systematic ill-treatment Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces encounter in the Israeli military detention system. The letter demands that the Israeli government “uphold its obligations under the [United Nations] Convention on the Rights of the Child,” and urged Minister Freeland to press the Israeli government to “fully comply” with international law.

In Canada? Sign and share our petition demanding Canadian leadership hold Israeli authorities accountable!

Disturbingly, Ahed’s detention and prosecution in Israel’s military court system is not exceptional, but provides a clear example of how Israeli military law and military courts are used to control an occupied Palestinian population. Between February and November 2017, an average of 310 Palestinian children were in the Israeli prison system each month for “security offenses,” according to Israel Prison Service (IPS) data. Among them were an average of 60 children between the ages of 12 and 15.

Ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees by Israeli forces is widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the Israeli military detention system. Three out of four Palestinian children experience some form of physical violence following arrest.

Israeli military law provides no right to an attorney during interrogation, so Palestinian children like Ahed often typically arrive to interrogation rooms bound, blindfolded, frightened, and sleep deprived. Children often give confessions after verbal abuse, threats, physical and psychological violence that in some cases amounts to torture.

In a military detention system where fair trial guarantees are denied and Palestinian children overwhelmingly experience some form of physical violence at the hands of Israeli forces, it is clear that detaining and prosecuting Palestinian children in Israeli military courts has little to do with justice.

As the situation appears to be deteriorating for children living under Israeli military occupation, we must remember an increasing number of lawmakers across the globe now recognize that failing to demand human rights, justice and equality for Palestinian children perpetuates injustice and a military occupation with no end in sight.

As we move forward in 2018, I know we will continue to strengthen our movement and efforts to expose widespread and systematic ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system. We’ll be sharing new actions for Canada and the United States soon, so stay tuned.

Brad Parker
Attorney & International Advocacy Officer
Defense for Children International – Palestine
Co-leader of the No Way to Treat a Child campaign

Are refugees a risk? Some resources

Are refugees a risk? Responses and resources

Following the attacks in Edmonton on September 30 2017, and the arrest of a Somali refugee as the main suspect, some people are rushing to paint refugees as dangerous.

Darren Wooff, Refugee convener for Saskatchewan Conference, suggests the following links and resources from the Canadian Council for Refugees. These offer background while laying out the case that born-in-Canada Canadians are in fact the most likely people to commit attacks that can be reasonably associated with terrorism. The United Church of Canada is a longtime and active member of the CCR.

Members of the United Church community are urged to also read the Moderator’s March 2017 reflection on racism, in which she notes, “Hatred so often has its source in fear—fear of change, fear of difference, fear of the unknown. We are all vulnerable to fear. When we are afraid we become defensive, we want to protect ourselves from real and perceived threats. The language of exclusion, the desire to draw lines between “us” and “them,” words and actions designed to dehumanize others, all are rooted in fear.

The antidote to this type of fear is love.” Read on for some good resources.  Continue reading

Followup on Take Action for Refugees

In February, the Local-Global Advocacy network posted an action asking you to write to the federal government asking for: a review of the Safe Third Country Agreement; and an increase in the number of refugees Canada will accept in 2017. Unfortunately, that action is sill current. Please see the post of February 1, 2017 below for those details.

Asylum seekers continue to cross the US border on foot at Emerson, MB even in the midst of winter storms. Manitoba-NW Ontario Conference notes that a refugee coalition has now formed in Winnipeg, and support is being offered to both Emerson and the refugees arriving there.

Why are so many making this very risky journey? In part because the Safe Third Country Agreement between the US and Canada means that claiming refugee status in Canada after travelling through the US is illegal, unless (ironically) one crosses our border “illegally”.

The Canadian Council for Refugees has written an excellent piece answering common questions and explaining the situation in more detail.

When this agreement was put in place in 2004, The United Church of Canada, KAIROS, and many others protested it strongly. They noted that such an agreement violates Canada’s international commitments under the UN Convention on Refugees, and warned of the consequences for vulnerable people.

Now Canadians are being asked to pressure our government to review the agreement, and to rescind recent reductions in Canada’s 2017 refugee numbers. Already many congregations have experienced multi-year waits for sponsored individuals and families to arrive. Now that wait may become longer.

An increasing number of churches are calling for a review or an end to the Safe Third Country Agreement.  For example, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, a binational church that is a partner to The United Church of Canada through the Canadian Council of Churches, released a strong statement and call for action.

Please consider what faithful word of truth and action you and your congregation or presbytery might speak to our government in this moment.

Take action for refugees: increase sponsorships and end the Safe Third Country Agreement

On Friday, January 27th US President Trump signed an Executive Order that temporarily halts all resettlement of refugees to the US, halves the number of refugees to be resettled in the current year, and bars Syrian refugees and discriminates against refugees of Muslim faith or background. The Order also imposes a temporary ban on the admission of nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Over the past year, United Church people have welcomed thousands of refugees into their communities.  As people of faith, the church continues to ask and respond in this time and place to Jesus’ question: “And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?” (Matthew 25).

Take action
There are positive, immediate steps Canada can take to respond to this crisis, but our government will need to hear that message from us.  Please contact your Member of Parliament and the Minister of Refugees, Citizenship, and Immigration. (Contact info below). Include your own thoughts, and whichever of the points below you feel you can support.

We call on the Canadian government to respond by:

  • Increasing Canada’s refugee resettlement targets and by opening the door to more refugee sponsorship applications. The government is planning to bring just 7,500 Government Assisted Refugees and 16,000 Privately Sponsored Refugees in 2017. We can do more; our churches and communities have already proven that.
  • Offering to resettle, on an emergency basis, all refugees who were approved for resettlement to the US but are now denied entry to the US, over and above Canada’s refugee resettlement targets for 2017.
  • Withdrawing from the Safe Third Country Agreement with the US, which closes the door to most refugee claimants applying at Canada’s land border. This Agreement, signed in 2004 over major protest from Canadian civil society and faith communities, disallows a majority of refugees in, or traveling through, the US to make a refugee claim in Canada. Why? On the grounds that the US is safe for refugees.

But the decisions taken by President Trump over the past weekend demonstrate anew what has always been the case: the United States is not automatically a safe place for refugees. Withdrawing from the Agreement would mean that those needing Canada’s protection could apply in an orderly way at the border, rather than being forced, as now, to cross the border irregularly, putting themselves at physical danger (as we’ve already seen in Manitoba) and promoting opportunities for smugglers. See this joint Canadian and American open  letter from Amnesty International for a fuller explanation.  See also more information from the Canadian Council for Refugees here. (The United Church is a member of the Council.)

Contact information
Write to your Member of Parliament or call your MP’s office; since you will likely have to leave a message, prepare a short script for yourself if you choose this option, and be sure to leave a phone number and the name of your community.

Find your Member of Parliament by postal code.

Send a print letter free of charge.

Search by name; this service gives you full phone, email, and mailing information for your Member of Parliament.

To contact Minister Ahmed Hussen:
Telephone: 613-954-1064
Fax: 613-952-5533
Mail: The Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen MP
365 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 1L1

Please CC your responses to Christie Neufeldt, Program Coordinator: Church in Mission cneufeldt@united-church.ca  

Responses to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

The news has been filled lately with news about the refugee crisis in Syria. Our own Moderator has contributed to this news. There are many people wondering what we can do – within and outside the church. Here are some suggestions:

General Council has recently put out a list of three ways to contribute to the Syrian crisis: pray, donate to humanitarian relief and sponsor refugees. One other way I can think of to contribute is to contact your local electoral candidates and talk to them about their party’s policy on refugees. You may want to use the United Church of Canada’s Federal Election Kit (see page 25). The Canadian refugee system is currently under resourced and limits the amount of private sponsorships that can be made.

It is difficult currently to sponsor Syrian refugees because of the bureaucracy of the process and lack of civil servants working the cases. As soon as a Syrian family is available they are sponsored by one of the many organizations in Canada which are involved in private sponsorships. The best way to sponsor a Syrian family is to be in contact with Syrian families in Canada who wish to bring their families here. If you have contacts with the Syrian or Muslim communities in your neighbourhood that might be a good place to start.

Otherwise refugee sponsorship is always very important and I would encourage your churches to engage in this process with families from other regions that are in turmoil. Eritrean, Ethiopian and Sudanese families to name just a few are also drowning in the Mediterranean and are in dire need. However the refugee sponsorship process is a long one and a sponsored family may not be landed in Canada for years. Contact our Refugee Program Advisor Khwaka Kukubo at refugees@united-church.ca for more information.

That being said, the humanitarian need in the Syrian refugee crisis is great. Lebanon for example is the home for literally millions of displaced Syrians and its resources are sorely taxed. Making monetary donations to the United Church aid organizations (especially with the pledge from the Canadian government to match aid dollars) would be a good response.

Some places that offer more information on the Syrian refugee crisis include:

Refugee Sponsorship Opportunities

Blended Visa-Office Referred Refugee Opportunities

Refugee sponsorship is one of the most satisfying outreach opportunities for a congregation where we can literally save lives. Recently the United Church has been made aware of a number of refugee opportunities which ease the financial commitment to a refugee family. The Blended Visa-Office Referred (BVOR) cases have the federal government provide income support for 6 months of the 12 month sponsorship term. Congregations often have access to donations of furniture, clothing and kitchen supplies which reduce the financial commitment required for a refugee family. In addition congregation members and even non-affiliated community are very generous when it comes to a focused outreach project with a “face” such as refugee sponsorship.

There are refugees of Eritrean, Iraqi and Karen (Burmese) ethnicities – all of which have established communities in Regina and Saskatoon and in some smaller cities and towns in Saskatchewan. There are individuals and families with children available for sponsorship. If your congregation is interested in saving a life you may contact Darren Wooff, Saskatchewan Conference Refugee Liaison at darren@stmartinsuc.com or 306-343-7101 or Melodie Mui, Church in Mission, The United Church of Canada at mmui@united-church.ca or 416-231-7680 x4142.