Robart Farho and his family arrived in Toronto recently from Damascus, Syria, where they had been living for several years after fleeing the war in Iraq.
Brought to Canada through the efforts of CRWRC, and sponsored by his brother-in-law, Farho has had a hard time believing he and his wife are finally safe.
“It’s like I am in a dream. I don’t believe I am in Canada,” Farho said in an interview translated by his brother-in-law, Aiser Sawa, who immigrated to Canada more than a decade ago after fleeing Iraq and living as a refugee in Turkey. But Farho, who worked as an automobile salesman in Iraq, says he is slowly starting to believe they are finally away from the strife, including death threats and kidnappings of friends and family members that drove them from Baghdad and into an uncertain situation in Syria.
“I only hope now that I can support my family and be able to give a good education for my kids,” Farho said.
As part of Refugee Sunday on April 6, CRC congregations across Canada will pray for the millions of people like Robart Farho forced to flee natural and human made disaster. Although CRWRC, in partnership with Diaconal Ministries Canada, works with refugees from all over the world, this year’s Refugee Sunday considers the men, women, and children of Iraq.
Two million Iraqis have fled their country due to violence and persecution, and are now scattered across countries in the Middle East. Iraqis are among the 10 million refugees in the world today, says Rose Dekker, CRWRC refugee program coordinator in Canada. The Canadian government has private sponsorship agreements with several organizations- including the Christian Reformed Church – which allows Canadian churches to act as sponsors for refugee families.
In the United States, the CRC works through PARA, a Grand-Rapids-based agency that helps in refugee resettlement. PARA will be bringing its first Iraqi refugee family to the U.S. next week, with at least two more families set to arrive in the future, says Jotham Ippel, PARA’s refugee resettlement coordinator. Though the U.S. government does not allow private sponsorship by non-governmental organizations American congregations are needed to help refugees adjust to their new life in the United States, says Ippel.
While the need remains great for all Iraqi refugees, Christian Iraqis are especially vulnerable given that they are being particularly targeted and persecuted in Iraq by various Muslim groups, says Moses Moini, CRWRC refugee program associate.
“It is so painful, so difficult to put yourself in the shoes of these Iraqis,” says Moini, himself a refugee from conflict in Sudan. “What we need to keep doing is advocating for them.”
Aiser Sawa adds that the number of Christians in Iraq is dwindling, as they are killed or forced to flee. They have had no real protectors as the war rages between the United States, its coalition forces, and various factions in Iraq. Ironically former dictator Saddam Hussein provided protection to Christians, but now that protection is gone, says Sawa, a Roman Catholic.
CRWRC has also been active in resettling refugees from Afghanistan.
War and threats of violence forced Hasan Azim and his family to leave Kabul, Afghanistan, and seek refuge in Pakistan in the early 1990s. A family member eventually sponsored him to move to Canada with his family.
Today, Azim owns a restaurant in the Burlington, Ontario, area. Last year, with assistance from CRWRC, he sponsored his brother-in-law, Fairdon Alu Ahmad, to immigrate with his family to Canada. Ahmad also fled Afghanistan, but lived in Russia for several years.
“My life has changed a lot. All of the time in Afghanistan we were under pressure from so many sides,” says Azim.
Besides helping the United Nations resettle Iraqi refugees, CRWRC is partnering with various organizations in Syria and Jordan to provide food aid, blankets and heaters, trauma counseling, and education to Iraqis wounded by their experience of war and as a refugee.
For more information about CRWRC’s refugee programs...
In Canada, call 1-800-730-3490
In the U.S., call 616-241-1691 or 1-800-55-CRWRC.
For those interested in involving themselves in the Iraqi refugee issue, CRWRC and the CRC Office of Social Justice are encouraging people to participate in Iraqi Refugee Action Days in Washington, D.C., on April 14-16, 2008. For a story on Iraqi Refugee Action Days, visit http://www.crcna.org/news.cfm?detailid=3556&newsid=513.
-- edited from original content by Chris Meehan, CRC Communications