The Canadian response to the Syrian refugee crisis was a divisive and emotionally-charged issue in the recent federal election. Since 2011, over 4 million Syrian people have fled their homeland, which is torn apart by an increasingly violent civil war. The Canadian federal government pledged in 2013 to re-settle 11,300 Syrian refugees, but as of October 2015 barely one-fifth of that target has been reached— a paltry response that several journalists, politicians, and one former Prime Minister have called a ‘national embarrassment’.
Recently elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to open our doors to 25,000 additional refugees by the end of 2015, a controversial decision that has been challenged by questions of feasibility and security. Canada is additionally burdened by local challenges of extreme poverty, including widespread housing and food insecurity in First Nations and inner city communities. Many question whether we have the resources or the energy to support incoming refugees while addressing the barriers to health faced by underprivileged Canadians.
REACH (Resources, Education, & Advocacy for Community Health) is partnering with local organizations to prove that it is possible to rise up to both challenges simultaneously. In the past few years REACH has partnered with the IMAGINE clinic, the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre, and Sojourn House to promote awareness of health issues faced by marginalized populations in Canada.
Next semester medical students from the U of T will work with REACH to learn about social determinants of health and support REACH’s ongoing initiatives in the GTA, including a recent collaboration with the Centre Francophone de Toronto. In the coming weeks REACH will be organizing food/sandwich runs for clients at the IMAGINE clinic and homeless shelters in the downtown core. At the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre, REACH volunteers will conduct a presentation on stress-reduction, and several other initiatives aimed at Indigenous, refugee, homeless youth, and Francophone populations in Toronto are being planned for 2015.
REACH is currently recruiting student volunteers. If you are passionate about healthcare, justice, or want to learn more about how social issues shape the health of communities at home and abroad, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them on Facebook to watch for updates!