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Catholic efforts see $3.75 million in matching funds slated

By Michael Swan
The Catholic Register


TORONTO (CCN) — There’s another $7.5 million heading out to help Syrians stuck inside the war-ravaged republic or living as refugees in surrounding countries thanks to Catholic donors and Ottawa’s promise to match donations.

Three Catholic agencies with projects in Syria and throughout the Middle East raised nearly $3.75 million for Syria before the Feb. 29 deadline set by the federal government. Ottawa set a cap of $100 million on matching funds for the Syria crisis.

The lion’s share of the Catholic contribution was raised by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Canada’s Caritas agency with more than 10,000 members across the country. With the backing of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Development and Peace raised $2.4 million.

“It is not easy to raise money for a crisis like this one which has been ongoing for more than five years,” said Guy Des Aulniers, Development and Peace’s humanitarian aid co-ordinator, in an email. “But our donors always have the most poor and vulnerable close to their hearts.”

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association-Canada raised $925,051.37, while Aid to the Church In Need-Canada came up with $440,326.59.

While the federal government matches funds raised by eligible agencies, the matching funds are not necessarily distributed back to the same agencies. Development and Peace, CNEWA and Aid to the Church in Need, however, will be able to apply for funding from the pooled matching funds for their projects. Global Affairs distributes the funds on the basis of the merit of proposals it receives.

The Syria Emergency Relief Fund deadline was extended by two months when it reached the Dec. 29 deadline with just $12 million raised from all of Canada. At the time aid and development agencies said intense interest in bringing refugees to Canada had diverted attention from attempts to help the majority of refugees who remain in the Middle East.

Getting people interested in far-away projects in a five-year-old crisis is a tougher sell than renting an apartment and planning city tours for a Syrian family coming to Canada, said CNEWA-Canada executive director Carl Hétu.

“For five years, people have been giving for Syria and now there’s donor fatigue, which is understandable,” said Hétu in January.

So far Global Affairs Canada is not releasing totals for the Syria Emergency Relief Fund.

Since January of 2012, Ottawa has so far committed $877.5 million in humanitarian and development assistance to the Syrian crisis, with another $82.91 million going for “security and stabilization.”

The money Development and Peace raises will eventually be spent by Syrians on their own priorities, said Des Aulniers.

“Our partners in the region are doing tremendous and courageous work, helping families meet their basic needs, providing medical and psychological services, as well as organizing educational activities for children,” he said.

The gap between actual needs and the internationally funded humanitarian assistance for Syria is huge, according to the United Nations agency that tracks humanitarian funds. In 2016 the international community has actually funded just 5.6 per cent of the $3.2 billion (U.S.) in humanitarian assistance needed this year, according to the UN’s Financial Tracking Service (FTS). Last year ended with only 43 per cent of Syria’s humanitarian needs funded.

While international funding for Syria has grown from $216 million in 2012 to $1.3 billion in 2015, the needs have grown even faster. Total humanitarian requirements for Syria were just $348 million in 2012. But with 13.5 million Syrians in urgent need of help, including 6.5 million internally displaced, the country this year needs $3.2 billion in aid.

So far this year Canada has contributed $279.4 million (U.S.) in humanitarian funding, about half of which was in response to UN humanitarian appeals, according to the FTS. Canada’s funding in 2016 represents 8.5 per cent of the total committed to emergency plans worldwide, and 5.5 per cent of the total committed to Syria, according to the FTS.

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