CIJA, Jordan co-operate on refugee aid plan

David Cape

As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, neighbouring countries have been flooded with refugees, 1.4 million in the case of Jordan alone. Amounting to 21 per cent of the country’s population, the influx has taxed the resources of the desert kingdom. But Jordan may be getting relief courtesy of a Canadian Jewish organization.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is collaborating with representatives of Jordan’s King Abdullah on a response that may take some of the pressure off Jordan. CIJA is working on a plan that will see Canadian faith groups and ethnic communities, representatives from the corporate world and the government of Canada raise funds to support the care of refugees in Jordan.

“These funds would be directed at ameliorating the conditions facing those displaced by the war,” said CIJA chair David Cape.

Cape was part of a CIJA delegation that met with King Abdullah in Amman on Sept. 2. The meeting was also attended by Royal Court Chief Fayez Tarawneh, King’s Office Director Jafar Hassan, and Canadian Ambassador Bruno Saccomani. It was part of ongoing ties dating back to 2012 and “was the normal continuation of a relationship that has developed and deepened over the years,” said CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel.

The exact nature of the initiatives must still be determined, and the plan would need the approval of the Canadian government, said Cape. But, it would focus on helping the vast majority of refugees, who remain in the Middle East.

“The main point underscored by the king was that while images of refugees flooding Europe understandably move people, the true crisis is in the region and accepting a relative handful of refugees will not ameliorate the catastrophic situation facing those displaced in countries like Jordan, Lebanon and the like. That, in his view, is where our efforts should be directed and where we can be of most value in alleviating the humanitarian crisis,” Cape stated.

In the two-hour discussion with King Abdullah and his senior advisers, “CIJA raised the idea of a public-private partnership in Canada that could enlist various faith and ethnic communities as well as the corporate world to raise urgently needed funds that would be matched by the Canadian government. These funds would be directed at ameliorating the conditions facing those displaced by the war,” Cape said.

CIJA left the meeting pledging to “work directly with the palace in devising a plan that would then seek the approval of the Canadian government. It would then be promoted to Canadian stakeholders,” Cape said.

“The notional idea is to mark the first tranche of support with a major event in Canada, at which the king would be the guest of honour. Over the longer term, the hope is that this could serve as a ‘generic’ model for application in other countries,” he added.

Fogel has been in contact with Jordanian interlocutors since the delegation’s return earlier this month. It is likely a series of face-to-face meetings will be held, some in Canada, after the federal election.

Cape said that while the proposed initiative “is directly exclusively at mitigating the humanitarian crisis in situ, most especially in Jordan,” it does not preclude cases of family reunification and resettlement in Canada for Syrians continuing.

Costs for implementing the plan will come from the corporate sector, private philanthropists and foundations, as well as a public donation drive. Cape said he expects these funds would be matched by contributions from the federal government.

As for financial support from the Jewish community, Cape said, “Many within the Jewish community have expressed a keen desire to help. For some, it will come in the form of sponsoring a refugee, for others it will be in donating to initiatives like that described above. CIJA is providing the range of information about sponsorship to communities across the country and such decisions will ultimately be taken by individuals and communities at the local level.”

“While CIJA does not see this situation – tragic as it is – as analogous to the Holocaust or even pre-Holocaust experience, there is clearly a human tragedy playing out, and as Jews, we have an obligation to engage in the effort to address it effectively.”