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A migrant family sit on a train heading for Serbia at the new transit center for migrants at the border between Greece and Macedonia on September 3, 2015. (ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A migrant family sit on a train heading for Serbia at the new transit center for migrants at the border between Greece and Macedonia on September 3, 2015. (ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Migrant crisis: How Canadians can help Add to ...

After the release of a striking photo showing the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach, Canadians are asking how they can help ease the human toll of the migrant crisis, both financially and personally.

Over the past 24 hours, Canadians’ most googled questions on refugees were ‘how to help Syrian refugees’ and ‘how to sponsor a Syrian refugee in Canada,’ according to data from Google.

For the first question, one of the easiest – and most immediate – ways of helping is through financial donations. Many organizations have dedicated funds set up for helping refugees coming to Europe.

One of these is Islamic Relief Canada. Its CEO, Zaid Al-Rawni, said donations are critical right now, as the number of refugees coming over the Mediterranean is overwhelming. Islamic Relief Canada focuses on acute care – solving the short-term needs of refugees, such as food, water and hygiene. Mr. Al-Rawni’s call for donations focuses on those needs.

“Help us make sure that those migrants aren’t just sleeping rough, eating from rubbish bins, not eating at all,” he said.

Mr. Al-Rawni said Islamic Relief is also looking for medical professionals who can donate their time to provide medical care to the refugees.

On the question of how to sponsor a Syrian refugee, the answer is more complicated, but there are resources Canadians can use for help.

In January, the government announced plans to accept 10,000 more Syrian refugees into Canada over the next three years. Of those, about 60 per cent would come through private sponsorships, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said at the time.

But the process is long and complicated.

In Edmonton, a local Muslim group has teamed up with the local office of the Mennonite Central Committee to reconnect 32 Syrian refugees since March with family relations in Alberta. By the autumn that number is expected to exceed 150, according to Sarah Hanafi, member of the Islamic Family and Social Services Association.

The Canadian government is not doing enough when it comes to helping Syrian refugees, she said.

“They’ve actually placed more of the onus and burden on private sponsors. It’s actually made it more difficult,” said Ms. Hanafi, whose organization has had to experience a steep learning curve when it comes to helping Syrian refugees.

Among those trying to make it easier is Lifeline Syria, a group that aims to connect interested groups with refugees to bring at least 1,000 refugees to the Greater Toronto Area. The chairperson, Ratna Omidvar, said the group is still working to bring its first refugees to Canada.

“I’m sponsoring a family. I think I’ll be lucky if a family arrives in February or March,” Ms. Omidvar said, adding the average time is nine to 12 months.

Private sponsorship is a pathway by which a group of at least five people – individuals aren’t allowed to do it on their own – can agree to pay for the resettlement of a refugee or family of refugees to Canada. They are also responsible for the people they sponsor for a full year after they come to Canada. Lifeline Syria connects people interested in sponsoring with people who know refugees in need of sponsors. It develops the files of the refugees, and takes care of the government paperwork for the sponsoring families.

Sponsoring groups need to show they have a certain amount of money set aside for the refugees, but often a bigger challenge is the year-long commitment, Ms. Omidvar said. She urged groups to be clear-headed about the commitment they’re making, but she still wants more people to sponsor.

“I think it’s time for private citizens to step up to the plate,” Ms. Omidvar said.

For financial donations, here are some of the agencies with dedicated funds for the migrant crisis:

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has a fund dedicated to refugees of the Syrian crisis right now. The agency provides health care, vaccinations, shelter and wells.

The Migrant Offshore Aid Station is at the front lines of the crisis. The agency is made up of humanitarians and marine officers, and tries to save migrants in distress in the Mediterranean. International donations can be made in U.S dollars by PayPal or bitcoin.

Migration Aid is providing short-term assistance to refugees in Hungary, including food and water, as well as hygiene items. Though the group can’t accept donations directly, it has an agreement with a pharmacy in Budapest that directly supports its work.

World Vision has a fund dedicated to Syrian refugees. The money goes toward basic needs such as food, diapers for babies and “psychosocial support.”

The Canadian Red Cross has set up a Syria Crisis Fund.

Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is providing humanitarian care along the routes the migrants take.

CARE Canada has reached more than one million people affected by the crisis in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and inside Syria.

UNICEF is working to help Syrian families in Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Macedonia. 

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