Understanding the refugee crisis: A guide

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The refugee crisis has been in the front pages for some time now. It was probably the most talked about issue in 2015 and is considered the most devastating humanitarian crisis in the modern era. There have always been refugees, you may say. So what makes the situation different today?

We have outlined the basics of the refugee crisis situation in this article to give you an answer to this question and to shed some light on some of the other burning questions you may have:

What is the refugee crisis?

The current refugee crisis is a global problem. In the last four years, the number of refugees grew at an unprecedented rate, making global forced displacement reach record-breaking levels (2015 likely to break records of forced displacement –study, UNHCR). There are now more than 20 million global refugees – people who were forced to leave their home countries because of conflicts such as war and violence, or repression or persecution, and they need to find a place where they can be safe. This sudden rise has left governments, as well as the UN, scrambling for solutions and resources, making it a situation of dire global urgency.

What caused the crisis?

There are various reasons for the global surge of refugees, but many analysts point to the Arab Spring. This series of peaceful, pro-democracy movements across the Middle East in 2011 shifted the situation into high gear. It caused major changes in the countries of the region and drew Syria and Libya into civil conflict. The civil war in Syria has been particularly gruesome – it has caused the death of more than 250,000 civilians, displaced half of the population and pushed more than four million Syrians to leave the country (The refugee crisis: 9 questions you were too embarrassed to ask,Max Fischer & Amanda Taub, Vox, Sept.2015).

Many of the four million Syrians fleeing the country end up in overcrowded refugee camps in nearby countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. However, the dismal situation in the camps (overcrowded, unsafe, no prospects for work or education) have forced some to take grave risks to find a better place. They resort to criminal networks and pay steep fees for a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. This has often resulted in deadly consequences. And if the refugees do make it, they would still have to contend with border patrols who may turn them away.

In September last year, the Syrians’ desperate situation finally gained global attention when various news media featured the lifeless body of a three year old boy, Aylan Kurdi, who was shown washed up on the shores of Turkey. Kurdi’s family (his father, mother and brother) took a motorboat trip arranged by a smuggler from Turkey to Greece, on the way to a new life in Canada. Their rubber raft was flipped by high waves, dumping them into the sea. Only Mr. Kurdi, the father, survived.

What is Canada doing to help the situation?

Owing to its humanitarian tradition, Canada is at the forefront of providing a safe haven for refugee families from Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. It has pledged to resettle 25,000 refugees through a five-phase plan. Late last year, it already welcomed around 7,600 Syrian refugees.

The Manitoba Labour and Immigration is leading the efforts in the province with support from the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization. Efforts are coordinated through the Manitoba Emergency Coordination Centre. Manitoba expects to initially welcome 1,500 to 2,000 privately-sponsored and government-assisted Syrian refugees. In September 2015, the province committed $1.4 million, including $200,000 in front-line support to finance logistical needs for immediate response to refugee needs as well as fund educational, employment, and health care supports.

Why should we care?

Just like you, refugees left their homeland to come to Canada to find a better place to live. We share with them the desire to live in peace, to have our human rights respected, be allowed to do fulfilling work, and most importantly, safely raise and provide a better future for our children. We have the capacity to extend the most compassion to them because many of us understand how it is to be displaced and to dream of a better life.

How you can help:

You can help in three ways: DONATE – You can give clothing, food, and household items. Meanwhile, monetary donations go toward various supports and resettlement efforts. VOLUNTEER – Many volunteers are needed for translation services, as well as for simple tasks such as visiting newcomers, taking donated clothing to them, or acting as a contact person. To donate or volunteer, contact the Red Cross and Manitoba government helpline: 1-888-662-3211, toll-free across Manitoba (open 8:30 am to 4:30 pm weekdays)

SPONSOR –You can gather a church or business group to sponsor Syrian refugees. For more information on the process, go to Sponsoring Syrian refugees on the CIC site.

Watch this video from CTV News Winnipeg on how Manitobans can help.

If you want to know more about Maysoun Darweesh and her family’s grueling journey from Syria to Macau and finally, Winnipeg, go to our Learner Story: Maysoun Darweesh.

Sources: UNHCR.org site; CIC.gc.ca (#WelcomeRefugees); News and resources on refugee resettlement (Resources for organizations working with Syrian refugees); Quick facts: What you need to know about the Syria crisis, Mercy Corps; Why people are leaving Syria: a brief, simple explanation, updated by Zack Beauchamp for Vox.

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Community Resources

For news and information on Canada-wide efforts and updates, go to CIC’s #WelcomeRefugees page.

You can also get in touch with Settlement Provider Organizations who are involved in refugee settlement efforts:

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Understanding the refugee crisis: A guide

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