The Syrian Refugee Crisis

Following a very informative consultation with the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia’s Refugee Coordinator, Rev. Canon D. Bruce Bryant-Scott, and Assistant Refugee Sponsorship Coordinator, Rebecca Siebert, we have prepared the attached Guidelines for Pastors of Catholic parishes wishing to sponsor refugee families. Under the Memorandum of Understanding which we have entered into with the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia there are specific expectations which we must meet. Please click on the links below to download the Guidelines and/or a Flow Chart that shows a simplified overview of the steps needed to prepare for receiving refugees.

~ Click here to download the Constituent Group Application Flow Chart
~ Click here to download the DOV Guidelines for Refugee Sponsorship
~ Click here to read the letter to the Hon John McCallum PC MP

The images and stories filling the media of the current refugee crisis in the Middle East have touched everyone, and the natural response is to want to offer help. In response to the crisis a special collection for Syrian refugee emergency relief has been sanctioned and promoted within the Diocese.  

Over $100,000 has been collected, and the funds continue to come in to the Chancery Office and are being forwarded on to:

  • Aid to the Church in Need – Canada (ACN)
  • Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)
  • Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP)

Refugee sponsorship is another very real and tangible way to help. The Diocese of Victoria supports sponsoring refugees of all religious traditions from any country. This is a humanitarian crisis and our response is based on Gospel values and the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching: The Life and Dignity of the Human Person; The Call to Family, Community, and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; The Option for the Poor and Vulnerable; The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; Solidarity; and Care for God’s Creation.

The Diocese of Victoria has entered into a partnership with the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia to enable our Catholic parishes to sponsor refugees through a Memorandum of Understanding under the Anglican Sponsorship Agreement with the Government of Canada. 

Please contact the Diocese of Victoria directly for assistance with the Refugee Sponsorship Process. For a more detailed understanding of what can be expected in undertaking refugee sponsorship please refer to A Guide To Refugee Sponsorship For Vancouver Island, a refugee sponsorship manual prepared by the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia: 

May our prayers and actions be guided by and be a reflection of God’s infinite care and mercy for His children.

For more information

Peter Dunwoody
1 - 4044 Nelthorpe Street, Victoria, BC, V8X 2A1
Phone: (250) 479-1331

Click here to access the Archdiocese of Vancouver's information page

Click here to access the CBC's National Conversation: Refugees

Fr. Karam Alraban: pastor and refugee

“When God saved my life in Iraq, I believe it was because He had a mission for me, and that mission was not then being done."

Fr. Karam Alraban is assistant pastor at Holy Cross Parish in Victoria. As a refugee from Iraq, Fr. Karam has a unique perspective on the current refugee situation. We thank him for his willingness to share his story with us, to give us a better understanding of the issues facing refugees in the Middle East and elsewhere.

I was born in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. I am part of a Catholic family of four: my parents, my younger brother and me. My family was a practicing family who took me to Church every Sunday. I was impressed by the priest and the way he led us in prayer, and with his pastoral mission. So I had the desire to be a priest from the age of seven. I joined the minor seminary where I lived while I went to middle school and high school. Then I joined the major seminary, where I attended the Pontifical Babel College for philosophy and theology. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in theology.

Was the war in Iraq always a factor in your life?

The war in Iraq was not one war, but a series of wars. I was born during the war with Iran, then I experienced the war with Kuwait, then the US economic sanctions for 13 years. That was followed by the US invasion and occupation in 2003. Next came the terrorists who conducted attacks on the people of Iraq. For me personally, and for the Iraqi Christian community, these challenges were not obstacles to our faith, but, as St. Paul said, “for power is made perfect in weakness” ( 2 Corinthians 12:9). I learned that carrying the cross is a deep experience which always leads to resurrection.

Were the Syriac Christians always in fear of practicing their faith?

As minorities, Christians of all denominations in Iraq, just as throughout the Middle East, identified themselves simply as ‘Christian’. We had to be united because, as a minor community, we were always treated as lower class even though we had a very positive presence in all areas of life in Iraq. Therefore, Christians in Iraq had very limited rights. They were not allowed to celebrate their faith in public; for example, they could not have processions outside of the church. They were subject to frequent and widespread religious-based insults to which they could not reply except at risk of being charged under the law. A Christian in Iraq, even if well educated and well qualified, cannot obtain a good job for the government.

Tell us about the bombing of your church and how that impacted your decision to take your final vows.

In 2010 the terrorist attack on my church, the Church of Our Lady of Salvation, killed 47 people including two priests. Five suicide bombers entered the church, shot many and took the survivors hostage. The police and the army came and stood by outside, taking no steps to stop the killing, saying that the victims were only Christians and were not worth putting the authorities’ lives at stake in order to defend them. When the terrorists ran out of ammunition and grenades, they detonated their suicide jackets. At the time, I was a Deacon, and I was concerned that being a priest was risky, but people came to me and told me that they now relied on me. I felt this was a calling from God, that he wanted me to be His man.

The Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has offered suggestions of ways for Catholics to respond to the refugee crisis. What are your thoughts about the refugees, and how we should respond?

I strongly endorse the initiative of the CCCB which is really thoughtful and continues the journey of mercy that Pope Francis started. From my humble perspective, the fourth point of the CCCB response to the Refugee crisis, Be Informed, is an important starting point because people cannot be properly involved or respond without having adequate and accurate information.

Canadians need to be aware of the real situation that refugees face in the Middle East and to understand the historical root of the crisis in order to see the proper way to respond, and also, to understand the negative repercussions to their humanity.

We already see thousands of people dying. We cannot wait for perfect or complete information; now is the time to act.

Do you think we need more information about the problem before making decisions about taking action?

We already know the plight of the refugees, the lack of hope they have of being able to make a reasonable life in their homelands, and their fears of an unpredictable future. To be more informed about the refugee crisis is to be alive to the meaning of fleeing from your home, leaving your memories behind, not being able to receive education or to find work. The loss of one’s home steals stability and makes you feel that your life’s efforts to build a home and family are erased in a moment.

When your faith is the reason for your persecution, when you don’t feel that you are considered as a human, and when your life and those of your family members are threatened; when we understand these things, then we will know what it feels like to be a refugee.

Tell us a bit about the Christians in Iraq and what they face in the present political situation.

Refugees include those persons who have a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality and so on. In the Middle East, minorities are the most vulnerable people. It is difficult to specify one minority as being more at risk than any other. As long as one is a member of a minority group in Iraq or Syria, he is at risk. 

The refugee crisis is neither new nor temporary for Christians in the Middle East. For them, the refugee option is not a matter of finding an alternative country, but of simply finding a country for they feel that they have never had a country that accepted them, and respected them, and made them feel that they belonged. 

Christians in Iraq have always been treated as strangers in that country. The problem for Christians of the Middle East is not confined to their countries; it is also compounded by the Western World’s lack of awareness of their situation.

Many people in the Western world are surprised to learn that there are Christians in the Middle East.

To summarize what Christians need in Iraq and the Middle East: “Give them countries for they are strangers in the lands where they now live.” Take them out of that area of persecution because this persecution will not be stopped. They no longer have hope for any solution which will offer them security and a decent life in their countries of origin. I am not speaking of a problem or a crisis; I am speaking of a long standing and enduring history of persecution. This persecution will not be ended by political or military means, nor by the aid provided by NGOs for the problem is cultural. It is rooted in the mentality of the majority of the population in that area. We live our entire lives in fear, even when the country is stable and security is good, because we are the weakest people. The persecution of Christians over hundreds of years has resulted in Christians declining from a majority of the population to a minority.

Will you take an active role in assisting the Diocese to adopt families and advise on how they can resettle?

As a refugee and a pastor, I am aware of the difficulties that they face, therefore I have approached the Knights of Columbus and the Parish Pastoral Council and I have contacted Sponsorship Agreement Holders to see how we as a parish could sponsor a refugee.

What are your impressions of your new home and parish?

What impresses me most are the kindness, thoughtfulness and hospitality of the people. Being here fills me with joy.  When God saved my life in Iraq, I believe it was because He had a mission for me, and that mission was not then being done. I believe that mission is to be in Canada, and I will always be grateful to Canada, to the Canadian people and to God for bringing me here.  

Last Updated

Feb 2, 2018


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