Feds pledged to match up to $100 million; Canadians have given $12 million so far.
Syrian refugees board a flight in Greece. Photo by Andrea Bonetti, Reuters Media Express.
The government has extended the deadline for donations to its matching fund to help Syrian refugees, after Canadians donated $12 million of the total $100 million the government pledged to match.
The Syria Emergency Relief Fund was established in September by the former Conservative government and promised to match citizens' donations dollar for dollar up to $100 million.
The original deadline to donate was Dec. 31, 2015, but that has been extended to Feb. 29, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced today.
"The extension of the deadline for matching funds will better allow Canadian charities to provide urgent relief and support to the children and families affected by the ongoing Syrian crisis," Bibeau told reporters.
She said of the $12 million received from Canadian donors, a few lump sums of $100,000 have come from individual donors.
When it first announced the fund on Sept. 12, the Harper government said the money would be used to provide clothing, health care and food to new refugees.
But Bibeau announced today that the government would now wait until the deadline has passed and spend the sum on whatever projects are urgently needed at that time.
It is unusual for Ottawa to match donations for long-term humanitarian efforts, rather than events like natural disasters.
When media asked Bibeau if such an approach would be more common in future, she said the initiative would be reviewed to assess its effectiveness.
Oxfam welcomes extension
Oxfam, a non-governmental organization working to fight poverty, welcomed the news in a release shortly after the government announcement.
"This announcement comes as millions displaced by the conflict in Syria are now facing the winter months," said Oxfam Canada executive director Julie Delahanty. "This extension reminds Canadians that there are still millions of people struggling to survive across Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan."
Oxfam said more than 12 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance as the war rages on.
The federal government said it has provided almost $970 million in humanitarian assistance and funding for projects related to security and stability in the region.
Ottawa has also pledged to settle 25,000 refugees from the nation in Canada by the end of February.
According to the UN, nations that border Syria, such as Turkey and Lebanon have taken in more than four million refugees.