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Faith Leaders Defend Syrian Muslim Refugees Near the end of 2014, reports emerged indicating that the Gov: erment of Canada planned to prioritize religious minorities when resetting refugees from Syria. This came amid increasing criticism of the government's failure to meet even is dismal tar {get of resetting 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. Canada has traditionally relied on the United Nations Refugee ‘Agency (UNHCR) to refer cases it has determined to be the ‘most pressing for resettlement. The UNHCR urges countries to be non-clsctiminatory and to select refugees based on need. This typically includes survivors of torture or sexual violence, women or children at risk, and those with special medical needs, “No matter what their faith or whether their faith is different than ours, God calls us to extend mercy’ and care to those who are in need and to those who are persecuted, Ida Kaastra Mutoigo Director, World Renew Canada Refugee and human rights advocates condemned the gov femment’s new approach as discriminatory. When asked for Clatiication, Costas Menegakis, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and immigration, did not deny the reports, In fact, he defended the government's position stat= ing, ‘We will prioriize persecuted ethnic and religious minorities, those at demonstrated risk, and we will nat apologize for thal ‘The government regularly denounces refugees who arrive by itregulat means as “queue jumpers.” Yet prioritizing religious minorities is the same thing. By choosing which refugees to resettle on the basis of any ottier characteristic than demon- strated need, the government is, in effect, moving a certain category of refugees to the front af the line. ‘This is not to say that there are not legitimate refugees who be- long to religious minority groups. However, itis a fact that the majority of those forced to flee have been Muslim—the pro ‘ise group that the federal government would choose to overlook. Itis unclear where the idea for this decision came trom. Nei- ther churches, which are largely responsible for privately spon- soring refugees, nor Syrian Christians themselves requested that the government give special treatment to religious minor ties. And so, faith communities across Canada responded. Inter-Faith Statement In a remarkable display of solidarity, CPJ and the Canadian Council for Refugees brought together 25 Christian, Mustim, Jewish, Hindu, and Sikh leaders. They signed on to a state- ‘ment dectaring their opposition to the selection of Syrian rolugoes according to religion. The statement noted, “All of By Kathryn Teeluck. ‘our religions teach the fundamental worth of every human ‘being. A person should never be excluded from refugee pro- tection or resettlement on the basis of his or her religion.” “There is a standard to assess [refugees for resettlement) ‘based on need for a reason,” said Amira Elghawaby, Human Rights Coordinator for the National Coune!l of Canadian Mus- lims (NGCM) and one of the signatories to the statement. As ‘an organization that advocates on behalf of Canadian Mus- lims, she said, the NCCM fel it was important to voice their concern, But she stressed that “even ift were another minor- ity and not Muslims who would be adversely affected, the NCCM would sill have signed the statement” because it is wrong to iscriminate against any religion. Bernie Farber, a founding member of the Jewish Refugee Ac- tion Network, also signed on to the statement. When asked why he considered this an important intative, he responded, “The emphasis should be on the protection and detense of the vulnerable, regardless of religion.” Farber also noted that “this issue is certainly special as it has galvanized all people with a focus on social justice, whether they are from the left or right of the political spectrum.” Uncertain Future ‘The government has said litle on the subject since it announced in early January that twill accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years. It is unclear whether the federal govern- ment sill intends to prioritize religious minorities. its also not clear if they will exclude other categories of refugees entirely. In the face of this uncertainty, iis important that faith commu rities and organizations continue to show the solidarity exem- plified by the inter-‘aith statement. Despite the varied reli backgrounds of its signatories, the fundamental message is clear: discriminating against people of any religion, particularly ina case where indwvicuals are so vulnerable, is unacceptable, “No matter what ther faith or whether their faith is different than ours, God calls us to extend mercy and care to those who are in need and to those who are persecuted,” says Ida Kaastra ‘Mutoigo, Director of World Renew Canada, ‘What should be ‘our goal as Canadians is to stop the injustices and any further sutfering by welcoming refugees whose desire, lke ours, is to dwell in safety and religious freedom.” Renta uk Pert ec Kattyyn Teele isthe Puc Justice Inter at CPL. a Te Calayat apie IE