British Columbia

Prioritize privately-sponsored Syrian refugees first, says Vancouver rabbi

Community and faith groups across Canada have raised money to sponsor refugees.

Temple Sholom raised $80K to sponsor 2 refugee families but they are still waiting, says rabbi

Syrian refugees wait at Marka Airport in Amman, Jordan, on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015 to complete their migration procedures to Canada,which has announced that it will take around 25,000 Syrians from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. (Raad Adayleh/Associated Press)

Community and faith groups across Canada have raised money to sponsor refugees but one Vancouver Rabbi says they could do more if the federal government prioritized privately-sponsored refugees over those assisted by government.

Rabbi Dan Moskovitz challenged his congregation at Temple Sholom to donate money to sponsor a refugee family in November. The synagogue has since raised close to $80,000 — enough to sponsor two refugee families.

But Moskovitz says they have been told they will have to wait, because the first group of about 2,500 refugees arriving in B.C. will be government-assisted.

"We're setting up their homes, we're painting the apartments, we're putting food in the refrigerator, we're celebrating birthday parties for the kids. That's what we want to do," said Moskovitz.

"But we can't do it yet because we don't know when they're coming."

'Volunteers can do this better than the federal government can'

There are three main reasons why the government should prioritize privately-sponsored refugees according to Moskovitz.

Volunteers are ready and willing to take families through all the steps of integration and stay with them through the year-long process, said Moskovitz. That will save the federal government "hundreds of millions of dollars."

Moskovitz also points out that there is less chance privately-sponsored refugees will become radicalized because they will receive help from volunteers every step of the way.

"My concern is that families that come through the government program is they're going to slip through the cracks, and then they're going to feel isolated in society and we've seen where that can lead."

'We were once strangers in the land'

Temple Sholom and other community groups in Vancouver have a history of helping refugees settle in their new home. Moskovitz says he and others at the synagogue are still in contact with the Cambodian and Bosnian refugees they sponsored decades ago.

That generosity and empathy comes from a shared history, said Moskovitz.

"We have to remember that we were once strangers in the land so we have to be welcoming to the stranger ourselves."

Ultimately people who sponsor refugees simply want to help in a personal way, he said.

"[The Canadian government] is doing it in a bureaucratic way and we're going to do it in a human way."

To listen to the full audio click the link labelled: Should privately sponsored refugees be prioritized?