Supporting refugees.

For Canada’s unions, it’s a labour of love.

An unprecedented partnership

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.

Unions support refugees in many ways

  • UFCW Canada launched an online letter-writing campaign to urge former Prime Minister Harper to take real action to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada. Many other Canadian unions strongly advocated for refugees leading up to and during the last federal election.
  • Unifor coordinated resettlement volunteer training for sixty-two of their Toronto-area activists. Lifeline Syria provided members with the tools and resources to welcome refugees at the airport, orient them to life in Canada, and assist them accessing health, education and social services in the community. Unifor also funded the resettlement of five Syrian refugee families.
  • USW Canada’s Humanity Fund is helping members to sponsor refugee families from Syria, Burundi and Burma (now known as Myanmar). You can read some of their stories here.
  • The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation is standing against cuts to classroom help for Syrian refugee children, most of whom do not speak English, and many of whom are coping with trauma they experienced before arriving in Canada.
  • The Health Sciences Association of Alberta sponsored a family of four Syrian refugees. HSAA President Elisabeth Ballermann said: “Our board has long understood our responsibility as privileged people to help out others who find themselves in crisis, both here at home and abroad.”

Refugee Crisis

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.

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