U.S. Groups Look to Canada to Resettle Refugees

By Llana, Sara Miller | The Christian Century, February 13, 2019 | Go to article overview

U.S. Groups Look to Canada to Resettle Refugees


Llana, Sara Miller, The Christian Century


When Ed Wethli, a Pittsburgh coffee company owner, learned of a Syrian family in Saudi Arabia facing deportation back to their war-torn homeland, he felt he had to help.

He brought the couple and their two elementary-school-age boys to his home in December 2014. They applied for asylum and settled into an American middleclass suburb. But their extended family remained in harm's way in Syria.

Then came the day that the photo of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who drowned when his family tried to reach Europe, circulated in September 2015. Wethli texted 60 friends and asked them to show up at his home that night; 20 did, and they founded Ananias Mission, a faith-based nonprofit supporting refugees. But they couldn't find an avenue for private efforts to bring refugees to the United States.

"I thought, 'We'll talk with senators and congressmen, we can make this happen,'" Wethli said. "The situation was a mess. Now I know we were pretty naive. That's when we found out about Canada."

Through Canada's private sponsorship program, which allows churches, community organizations, and individuals to apply for resettlement for refugees, Wethli's organization eventually helped get the rest of the Syrian family members--23 in all--to safety in Ontario, sponsored by the Diocese of St. Catharines. And now the Pittsburgh-based organization is raising funds to get more refugees to Canada.

In doing so, it joins other Americans who are channeling their humanitarian spirit northward--and adjusting their views of America's role in global crises, as the United States has rolled back its humanitarian efforts in recent years.

Wethli looks to Canada as a refuge but is troubled by where his own country stands. He had seen the United States as "the country in times of crisis in the world that has stepped up. We're not leading anymore."

U.S. resettlement numbers have plummeted in the last two years: only 22,491 refugees were resettled during fiscal year 2018, about a quarter of the number from two years prior.

In January 2017, President Trump signed an executive order placing limitations on refugees and visitors from many Muslim-majority countries. In its wake, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau posted on social media: "To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #WelcomeToCanada."

Sponsors in Canada say American support has been vital to their volunteer efforts. Vania Davidovic, who lives in Oakville outside Toronto, has directly sponsored nine families in Canada--more than 50 individuals. …

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