MCIS’ Executive Director, Latha Sukumar speaks about the refugee experience, Lifeline Syria and much more

By: Jack Xu

Shy and fearful, Mohamed, 2, seldom ventures from his family’s tent without holding tightly to his cousin Malak’s hand. Both his parents died in Syria. For the past five months, he’s lived with 13 aunts, uncles, and cousins in a homemade tent in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. (©2016 World vision/photo by Jon Warren)

The Syrian Crisis

Syrian refugee crisis: Fast facts

  • 5 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance due to a violent civil war that began in 2011.
  • 8 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.1 million are displaced within Syria; half of those affected are children.
  • Children affected by the Syrian conflict are at risk of becoming ill, malnourished, abused, or exploited. Millions have been forced to quit school. View these photos to see life through the eyes of Syrian refugee children.
  • Most Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East, in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt; slightly more than 10 percent of the refugees have fled to Europe.
  • Peace negotiations continue despite a fraying and piecemeal ceasefire.



The word refugee conjures up different images for different people.  However, because its use is so widespread its true meaning is lost on us.  We are desensitized to the fact that every refugee has a compelling story of untold hardship that is indelibly theirs, the trauma from which they will perhaps never fully recover.  This came home to me when an MCIS staff member of joyful disposition once shared with me the poignant story of her partner and his experiences growing up in a refugee camp till he was a teenager, before making the treacherous trip by boat to Canada.  His first exposure to an educational institution was in Canada, and to his credit he learned English, mastered high school Math and Physics and then went on to complete a graduate degree in Engineering.  He continues to suffer physical and emotional pain.  His diagnosis – the trauma from past experiences fraught with tragedy, over the loss of a parent to starvation in the camp, and the strain of adapting to a new world.  In many ways, his is a success story. But, there are millions of stories from around the world with not so happy endings.

The Syrian refugee crisis is by no means the only one of its kind.  However, given Syria’s strategic position in the globe, this crisis has resulted from the wilful intervention of Western super powers in that nation’s sovereignty.  Also, its sheer magnitude has made it everyday news fodder and the images that emerge are heart-rending and poignant.  We in the West must take some responsibility for this grave human tragedy.

What we can do

The Trudeau government while still in its honeymoon phase stepped up with a magnanimous offer to accept 25,000 refugees, and it did.  The effort which was unprecedented and massive was well coordinated, with community agencies, schools and hospitals across the nation rallying around to provide unmatched ground level support.  Their efforts continue.  The true test of how we as a society respond to these new immigrants comes now when following one year of government support they come into their own.   However, these challenges notwithstanding we cannot stop our effort to bring more people into Canada, by way of private sponsorship, even if the government may have called a halt.  Current anti-Syrian refugee politics south of our border will definitely influence the Canadian government’s position on this contentious issue.

Individuals and community agencies can and must do their bit.  They can individually or collectively sponsor more families.  What do they have to do?  Well,  they just need to contact Lifeline Syria as MCIS has.  We are soon to be the community sponsor of one family and maybe another one soon thereafter.

What is Lifeline Syria?

Lifeline Syria was launched in June of 2015 in response to the ongoing humanitarian refugee crisis, to assist sponsor groups welcome and resettle Syrian refugees as permanent residents in the GTA. The organization is committed to helping Syrian refugees settle in Canada.

To accomplish this, Lifeline Syria:

  • Helps recruit, train and assist sponsoring groups to welcome and support refugee families during their first year in the GTA
  • Works with the Syrian community in the GTA to ensure that they help shape and participate in this initiative
  • Works with pro bono lawyers to help process refugee applications accurately and efficiently
  • Liaises with Sponsorship Agreement Holders, the settlement sector, and other partners to ensure that proper supports are available to newcomers

Check them out at