Canadian support needed abroad

(Photo by Paul Jeffrey)

Halfway around the world, a Canadian NGO is bringing to light the stories of people pushed to the margins by war — refugees from both the Syrian and Israeli — Hamas conflicts.

Robert Granke, the executive director of Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR), has been witness to a number of tumultuous situations. But in light of recent events in the Gaza strip and in Syria, he and CLWR are calling on Canadians to support the humanitarian efforts of those assisting refugees throughout the region.

“This is still an important matter and one that Canada still needs to monitor,” he said from Jerusalem on Tuesday.

He and Bishop Susan C. Johnson, the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and a Laurier graduate, are currently in the Middle East to determine what aid is needed for people affected by the exodus from Syria and the bombing in the Gaza strip.

In Jordan, not far from the border of Syria, the Za’atari refugee camp is teeming with people who fled their homes under threat of bombardment.

“Refugees had their houses bombed out and left with only the clothes on their back,” said Johnson. With winter on the way and nighttime temperatures dropping quickly, she is worried for many who don’t have the provisions to adequately protect themselves from the cold.

“Many young children are just in t-shirts and barefoot,” Johnson observed.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has over 90,000 Syrian refugees registered in Jordan alone. Not counted are those waiting for appointments and those who have yet to even make their way into the system.

With violence between Syrian rebels and the ruling Ba’ath party escalating, the numbers aren’t expected to go down any time soon.

“[Za’atari] could potentially double in size in the next number of weeks,” said Granke.

“It’s growing by 300 persons a day.” Za’atari holds about ten per cent of the estimated 250,000 Syrian refugees scattered throughout Jordan.

Though the numbers are daunting, Granke and Johnson are confident that  support from Canada can at least help to improve the living conditions at the camp. “For $200 we can support a family for the winter by getting them a small heated space,” said Granke.

While many would be hesitant to travel to Jerusalem given the escalation of conflict that has happened in the region in recent weeks, Granke and Johnson found a familiar calm in the holy city, their next stop after Za’atari. “I don’t see a heightened level of tension,” said Granke. “People are getting along with their lives.”

Granke and Johnson’s work allows them to see stories that otherwise would go unreported, whether that be the day-to-day struggles of Syrians in a refugee camp or the everyday life of your average Israeli or Palestinian.

“A majority of Palestinians are peace loving people…who want a permanent peace between Israel and Palestine,” said Johnson.

Though CLWR’s aid work supports the Palestinian population, the NGO also enjoys a good working relationship with the Israeli government.

“Both sides need to be heard,” said Granke.

Still, with an estimated 1.2 million Palestinian refugees affected by conflict, CLWR has plenty of work to do in the region. The Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem is one of their main projects in the region, providing medical care to residents of Palestine.

While Johnson has called for financial assistance for CLWR’s efforts in the Middle East, she also makes two interesting requests of Canadians. “Always ask for prayer for people who have been displaced,” she said, “and finally, I request [they] educate themselves and become aware of what the situation is.”

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