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Refugee schoolchildren attend an official ceremony to return to school at one of the UNRWA schools at a Palestinian refugee camp al Wehdat, in Amman, Jordan on Sept. 2, 2018. Canadian aid organizations are asking the federal government to increase foreign assistance in this year's budget.MUHAMMAD HAMED/Reuters

Canada’s leading international aid organizations are urging the federal government to keep its promise and continue increasing its contributions in foreign assistance, saying communities around the world rely on that support.

A total of 77 aid organizations wrote an open letter to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on Monday in advance of the federal budget, urging the government to increase international assistance beyond last year’s $8.15-billion and commit to a predictable three-year boost to reach $10-billion by 2025.

“Today, as the world emerges from the pandemic, confronts the challenge of war, grapples with the impacts of inflation, and addresses budgetary pressures, we cannot afford to take a step back. In fact, we need to continue doing more. Foreign aid is not a handout. It is an investment in the type of world we all want to see,” said the letter.

The aid agencies said Canada’s investments have supported democracy and women’s rights in countries where they are under attack. Its feminist policy, they said, invested in programs with lawyers defending women’s rights in Honduras, supporting women journalists’ training in South Sudan and empowering refugee girls to go to school in Jordan.

“If Canada fails to maintain its commitment to year-on-year increases in international assistance in the federal budget this spring, all of this is under threat.”

Chris Dendys, executive director of Results Canada, an advocacy organization that was one of the signatories, said the government promised to increase Canada’s assistance every year going toward 2030 in keeping with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

“I think that we’re continually facing these pressures because aid is viewed as a handout and it’s not, it’s an investment. If COVID and climate has taught us anything, it’s really that the world is shrinking,” she said.

“So when these programs get cut, and that’s the other side of the balance sheet, it’s less kids in school, more people hungry, all of that reality.”

Among the signatories of the letter is Right to Play, a global organization that works in 15 countries helping children stay in school.

Jennifer Slawich, director of policy and stakeholder engagement at the organization, said many of their projects funded by Global Affairs Canada are having a significant impact in communities, particularly for women and girls.

Ms. Slawich said Canada has been a leader on global education and noted a significant investment Ottawa made at the 2018 G7 summit. Four million women and girls have benefited from that $400-million, which has been implemented mainly through Canadian partners. But these 55 projects are coming to an end over the next several months.

“It’s something that we can be really proud of, but what we’re worried about in this budget in particular, is that if there isn’t an increase to the aid budget, that education funding is going to fall off the radar,” she said, adding that they want to make sure it’s continued to keep girls in school.

Fred Witteveen, CEO of Children Believe, raised the same education funding, saying that the initial investment is coming to an end while the need is still great. He said two years after the commitment was made, the pandemic struck, marking a huge setback in global education.

“So the work’s not finished. If anything, it’s just started. And so this is an important moment for Canada given the leadership on global education, especially for girls, to not drop the ball.”

Elise Legault, Canada director of One Campaign, an advocacy organization aimed at ending poverty, which also signed on to the letter, said it’s more important than ever that Ottawa keep its promise because of all of the crises unfolding around the world.

“The worry is that there’s some long-standing support programs, like for women’s rights groups that have been so important for the government’s feminist international assistance policy that could be at risk,” she said.

She said Ms. Freeland has signalled that the upcoming budget will be conservative, and that aid groups are worried that means the international assistance envelope “could suffer.”

Adrienne Vaupshas, a spokesperson for Ms. Freeland, said the government launched its prebudget consultations in December inviting all Canadians, including international aid organizations, to share their ideas.

“The suggestions received via prebudget consultations will inform potential measures to be included in this year’s budget,” she said.

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