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Companies, Communities Step Up to Inspire Nations to Help Syrian Refugees

Words by Jan Lee


While nations around the world debate whether they can, or should help refugees fleeing persecution in Syria, a number of companies and communities are making the pledge to help.

Last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook expressed in an email to staff that Apple would be making a "substantial donation" to support "humanitarian aid in Europe and around the Mediterranean." Although he did not say how much it would donate, Cook promised that employee donations to the fund would be matched by the company.

JP Morgan Chase & Co. has also announced that it will be making a donation to humanitarian organizations such as Save the Children, Oxfam, International Rescue Committee and International Mercy Corps to provide water, food and other essential support for fleeing refugees. The company says $1M will come from JP Morgan itself, and it hopes to raise the other $1M through a matched employee giving program, with corporate donations totaling another $500,000. The funds would earmark assistance in key refugee areas such as Italy, Lebanon and Greece.

And on the remote, scenic island of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada, the Mi'kmaq First Nations is lobbying the federal government of Canada to allow them to open their land to Syrian refugees. Hereditary Chief Stephen Augustine, who serves as the dean of Unama'ki College at Cape Breton University is leading the call for the Canadian government to ease up its immigration policies and allow refugees to come to Cape Breton Island.

“We didn’t have an immigration policy when you came here,” Augustine said, referring to the historic arrival of British and French explorers to Mi'kmaq's ancestral lands hundreds of years ago. Augustine has become famous in Canada for his gentle, if determined opposition to Canada's refugee policies, which have, like those of many countries, been criticized as too slow to meet the humanitarian needs of refugees flowing from the Middle East.

"I challenge indigenous leaders to take a lead in calling on government to increase the settlement targets,” Augustine said “We are all one big family and we should be looking after each other,” Augustine said.

In Israel, a similar call for action is being initiated by another unlikely organization: SodaStream. The company, which was targeted by the boycott, divestment and sactions Israel (BDS) campaign in past years for locating its processing facility within the West Bank, moved its factory last year to the Israeil town of Rahat. Prior to moving, it had employed Palestinian residents to operate the West Bank facility, paying them, the company says, on par with wages normally paid in Israel and far above those normally paid in the fledgling West Bank. But the BDS campaign forced the company to close the facility and in so doing, to terminate the employment of West Bank residents.

SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum says he sees the Syrian refugee crisis as another chance to help families in need of employment.

"As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I refuse to stand by and observe this human tragedy unfold right across the border in Syria," Birnbaum said recently. He is calling on the Israeli government to approve his proposal, which would require the government to accept Syrian refugees within its borders. He said he is prepared to hire up to 1,000 refugees at his SodaStream factory.

In each of these instances, federal governments are being challenged by companies and communities to open their doors wider, and to provide humanitarian aid faster. While countries like Italy, Germany and Turkey have committed facilities, aid and funding to resettle refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other nations, the U.S., Canada and Israel have been criticized as slow or unresponsive to the crisis.

So far, the Israeli company SodaStream is the only business to actually commit to providing jobs to refugees once they arrive. But the impetus of the private sector to find creative ways to adjust to the world's humanitarian needs is proposing an interesting standard in compassion for western governments. As has so often been the case in the past, private businesses and communities are setting  the benchmark for how our governments respond to humanitarian crisis.

Images: Freedom House; Oguzhan Ali; UK Department for International Development

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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