Resolution on Responding to the Global Refugee Crisis

Canadian Council for Reform Judaism
Submitted to the URJ Biennial


The world is experiencing its worst refugee crisis in history. As Jews, we have known the experience of both fleeing persecution and being “strangers in strange lands,” making us especially sensitive to the plight of today’s refugees.  We also believe in our tradition’s instruction that “the stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Lev. 19:33). This principle of welcoming the stranger is repeated 36 times in the Torah, more than any other commandment. Additionally, Judaism emphasizes the importance of loving kindness (chesed), hospitality (hachnasat orchim, and redeeming the captive (piddyon shevuyim). These values have long been reflected in the work of our congregations and URJ resolutions, including Refugees in Canada (1989), Refugees and Sanctuary (1985), Haitian Refugees (1978), Immigration for Stranded Russian Jews (1978) and many others. North American Jews have a particular understanding of these values as many of our ancestors were once refugees themselves, and their plight was met with varying levels of hospitality and welcome.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, “Refugees are people outside their country of origin because of feared persecution, conflict, violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order, and who, as a result, require ‘international protection’.”[1] In contrast, an immigrant is in a situation which is “often understood to imply a voluntary process, for example, someone who crosses a border in search of better economic opportunities.”[2] There are currently 65.3 million displaced people worldwide, including 21.3 million refugees fleeing famine, persecution, and violence. These refugees come from many countries, including Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, South Sudan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Ukraine, and Syria.  Since 2011, when civil war broke out in Syria, about  11 million people have fled their homes, accounting for much of the recent increase in refugees. In 2015 alone, more than one million refugees arrived in Greece and Italy. 

The Canadian government has resettled over 45,000 Syrian refugees since November 2015 and accredited community organizations, such as churches, synagogues, and individual groups, to sponsor many of these refugees.  Sponsors provide for the costs of refugees’ relocation and their subsequent integration into communities, including the funds needed to support a family for a year. Canada uses annual numeric targets, matched to its processing capacity, for this selection process, thereby eliminating multi-year waiting periods. To safeguard Canada and minimize risk, the refugee selection process applies state-of-the-art security methods.  

Between 2015 and 2017, twelve Reform congregations across Canada raised nearly $500,000 to sponsor 60 refugees across 17 families. Some temples partnered with churches, mosques, and other Jewish congregations and institutions to raise the necessary funds for sponsorship. 

Unfortunately, the Canadian government has capped private sponsorships at 1,000 refugees for 2017.

In the United States, President Trump ordered a reduction in the annual cap on refugees from 110,000 to 50,000 for 2017, the lowest level since 2007and temporarily banned refugees from entering the United States via executive order. Private sponsorship is not an option for U.S. congregations, however, approximately 180 U.S. Reform congregations have supported local resettlement agencies and hosted events to welcome new refugees into their communities.  Some U.S. congregations have partnered with Canadian congregations to develop cross-border alliances to support the resettlement of refugees.

Although this refugee crisis will not be solved by North America alone, there is an important role for our congregations to play. 



  1. Address the current global refugee crisis as one of historic significance and urgency.
  2. Recognize that while all refugees should be given an opportunity to reach safe haven and build a better life there are some groups that are in more immediate danger than others, and advocate at the highest levels of our national governments to protect the most vulnerable refugees.
  3. Recognize the vital role that Canada and the U.S. can play in addressing the global refugee process by welcoming refugees and supporting the work of other nations seeking to address the causes and effects of the global refugee crisis.
  4.  Support the resettlement efforts of the North American congregations by advocating at the local, state, provincial, and federal levels for U.S. and Canadian officials to raise quota caps and strengthen the infrastructure essential to successful refugee resettlement.
  5. Encourage congregations to increase their individual activities in support of refugees by making use of the resources within their communities and also those available through the Religious Action Center and the CCRJ National Social Action Committee including:
    1. A list of accredited agencies with which congregations can partner on advocacy and resettlement efforts;
    2. Educational materials on the scale and urgency of the plight of refugees as well as the Jewish texts, tradition, and history that inform our commitment to this work; and
    3. Advocacy materials to assist congregations in making the case to their elected officials.
  6. Support the continued collaboration of U.S. and Canadian congregations on refugee sponsorship efforts, building on the unique cross-border relationship that has developed between congregations in the U.S. and Canada.