Philosophy professor Robert Stainton speaks passionately when it comes to describing the ongoing, and seemingly endless, need to assist millions of Syrian refugees fleeing a country torn apart by civil war.
Almost five years after it began, the war has killed more than 220,000 people, half of whom are civilians. The United Nations estimates 6.6 million people are displaced internally, and when you also consider refugees, more than half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million is in need of urgent humanitarian aid.
During that time, Stainton posted a few Facebook rants as to why the media was not covering the crisis and why help was not being offered. But it was his friend and colleague, Wendy Pearson, a professor and undergraduate chair of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research, who sparked action when she told him, ‘Maybe we should stop complaining and do something ourselves.’
Today, Stainton hopes his actions will speak louder than his words for one London family.
Rania Almuradi, her husband and daughters have lived in London for a year, but her mother, brother and sister are still in Syria. The Almuradis (not their real name, for reasons of privacy and safety) are not Syrian, having come to Syria from Iraq as refugees in 2010. As Sabean Mandaeans, an ethnic and religious minority persecuted after Saddam Hussein’s regime fell, the Almuradis fled along with more than 50,000 others to neighbouring countries, including Syria, where uncertainty reigns for millions.
“It is very hard for me not to see, or know, about my family from day-to-day,” said Almuradi through an interpreter. “Sometimes days pass before I can speak with them, or hear anything about their situation. I am always watching the news to see if the area that they are living in has been attacked. I cannot find peace since they are far, and daily bombings are a regular occurrence where they are living. It is difficult for me to find the right words to describe the fear I feel when I hear of an attack in the area of Syria they sought refuge in.”
Almuradi said being able to walk the streets of London, without fear of being killed or persecuted, brings her peace of mind as she can raise her children without worry.
“My family and I have never had such amazing opportunities to live, learn and thrive before – neither in my home country of Iraq, or the countries where we sought refuge, like Syria,” she said. “When I came to Canada, I quickly realized both my daughters have a great opportunity to do well. When I realized this, life and joy returned to me. There is no persecution or marginalization because I belong to an ethnic and religious minority.”
To bring the rest of her family to London would conclude a harrowing and painful time.
Stainton has been a central coordinator for dozens of local groups, acting as a ‘matchmaker’ between those needing and those offering help. Already working on sponsoring a family, he helped form Western Ontario Friends for Refugees, a group of individuals with connections to Western organizing to sponsor a second family.
“There is a kind of exhaustion with the crisis being millions of faceless people,” Stainton said. “Instead, we made it personal and say here’s a family, here’s their situation and they need help. That motivates people in a way.”
The group has established a Go Fund Me page to raise the $20,000 needed to support Almuradi’s mother, brother and sister during their first year in Canada. The funds will cover rent, furniture, clothing and groceries, as well as support the family while Almuradi’s brother and sister complete high school, something they were not able to do after being driven out of Iraq.
“Canada needs to do everything we can to help. It is so important for us to keep this in mind, that there is no quick and easy fix for this problem,” said Western alumna Erin Pocock, who is helping to lead Western Ontario Friends for Refugees. “Even when we focus on small solutions – on saving one family – it will take us months to complete this sponsorship process, and another year for them to acclimatize to Canada. It takes a long time to fix the biggest refugee crisis of our generation.”
Almuradi admits to checking the Go Fund Me website every day, knowing she is close to seeing her family again and introducing them to their new niece and granddaughter.
“I have hope that my brother, sister, and mother will arrive to London,” she said. “It is hard to describe my feelings when I think that one day we will all be united here in London. I remember and reflect back on the days when we were all living together, peacefully, in Iraq. I think to myself, ‘Will we all be united in Canada and live in peace again?’ It would be truly magnificent if that vision becomes true.”
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HOW TO HELP
Support the Western Ontario Friends for Refugees campaign by visiting the Go Fund Me website, gofundme.com/89nxwekc, or writing a cheque to Diocese of Huron and sending it to Western Friends of Refugees, c/o Erin Pocock, 241 Atkinson Blvd., London, ON, N5W 4Z5.