For Canada’s unions, it’s a labour of love.
Although the Syrian refugee crisis had been building since 2011 due to the civil war that led millions to flee their homes, the haunting picture of a dead three-year-old boy lying on the beach in Turkey finally made the rest of the world aware of the tragic reality.
In October 2015, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) established a special fund, in partnership with the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), to help support the settlement of Syrian refugees in Canada. Unions across the country pitched in more than $300,000. Many unions also made generous donations to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, but knew there was more hands-on work that could be done to support refugees.
Reaching out to governments, businesses, and community and faith groups, Canadian unions formed an unprecedented partnership, launched in December by the CLC, CCR and Canadian Chamber of Commerce. The coalition recognized Canada’s humanitarian obligation, as well as its history of welcoming refugees, who have gone on to contribute to our economy, start businesses and create jobs.
The CLC and its affiliated unions immediately began mobilizing local unions and labour councils to work with local United Way chapters, chambers of commerce, businesses and newcomer-serving organizations. A downloadable guide was created to support resettlement work on the community level, including suggestions for responding to anti-refugee backlash through education, advocacy and fellowship.
Refugees are escaping violence and desperate living conditions, in communities where housing, food, water and health care are scarce. They usually leave with only the clothes on their back.
Today, you can experience a small piece of what it is like to make the journey of a refugee.
Escaping a war zone is where our story ends today, but for refugees, that is only the beginning of their journey.