Owen Roberts

Even with other major stories percolating — sex education in schools and the federal election among them — the Syrian refugee crisis has thankfully not been nudged off the front pages.

Noble and determined efforts are underway everywhere to help the estimated Syrian refugees find new homes.

Last week, the Ontario government pledged $10.5 million to resettle 10,000 refugees here by the end of 2016. About $2 million of that will go to immediate humanitarian help.

Also in the province, an initiative called Lifeline Syria will recruit, train and assist sponsor groups to support 1,000 Syrian refugees coming to Canada as permanent immigrants to resettle in the Greater Toronto area.

Back in April, the province gave the group $30,000 to get started, then came through with another $300,000 just prior to Labour Day.

In Ottawa, most lately the federal government has pledged to match $100 million in humanitarian aid donations from Canadians. It’s given support to Syrian refugees in other ways too. Since the beginning of 2014, Canada has allocated more than $21 million to respond to humanitarian needs in Iraq. Of that sum, $9.6 million has been targeted for Syrian refugees there. In total, Canada has committed $800 million to the Syrian situation.

The huge humanitarian task ahead underlines the ongoing need to forge global relationships and open trade channels, especially before crises arise, so responses can be better coordinated.

One such relationship that bears mentioning is the one between Canada and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is the global leader in humanitarian aid, proportionate to its income. It has dedicated more than US $1 billion to support the Syrian people and refugees. It’s given 100,000 Syrians residency permits there since the refugee crisis began in 2011, bringing the total number of Syrian residents in the UAE close to 250,000.

The UAE also funds the Marajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Jordan, home to over 4,000 Syrian refugees. Along with Germany and the US, the UAE has established the Syria Recovery Trust Fund, to restore essential services in areas controlled by the Syrian interim government. It’s the first such fund to operate inside Syria.

In April, the UAE and Canada signed a memorandum of understanding for international development cooperation. It was mainly designed to help with poverty reduction in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Later, a state official from Dubai (one of the emirates), working with the Dubai Awqaf and Minor Affairs Foundation, dedicated in part to humanitarian work, visited Canada to further develop relations and that could see preserved Halal meat from Canada provided by the UAE for victims of natural disasters and war.

These exploratory meetings between His Excellency Tayeb Al Rais and the Alberta government included specific discussions focussed on Canadian beef.

Such developments represent new ways for both nations to help hungry people.

On the UAE side, the effort is an expansion of what it calls its Salma Project, so named after the first Emirati woman nurse who served there for more than a half-century. The project was launched last year to bridge what the UAE saw as a gap in humanitarian aid.

For Canada, it’s another step towards greater cooperation with the UAE. Agriculturally, the nation already imports about $50 million worth of Canadian beef, mostly from Ontario. The Ontario corn fed beef producers are trying to up that amount with a new agreement they believe could put $1 million worth of their product on consumers’ plates there. Other markets exist for hay.

Related: Ontario Corn Fed Beef Brand Expands Reach to United Arab Emirates

On the humanitarian relations side, last year Canada established an emergency stockpile warehouse in Dubai (this is Canada’s second such warehouse, its first abroad). The stockpile, managed by the Canadian Red Cross, includes an array of items designed to meet the basic needs of a minimum of about 25,000 people for three months, such as tents, blankets and kitchen sets. Save the Children distributes these supplies from Dubai on the ground to refugees in northern Iraq.

By 2021, the UAE plans to be the first global hub for distributing humanitarian aid in response to regional disasters and crises. It’s already recognized as a pivot in the Middle East for such aid. For years, vessels have left Dubai for Syria carrying relief items from a huge emergency aid repository there, to help meet the needs of displaced people.

This repository is part of what’s called International Humanitarian City in Dubai, described as the world’s largest (and busiest) logistics hub for humanitarian aid, with nine UN agencies and nearly 50 NGOs and commercial entities as members.

As Canada strengthens its relations with the UAE, a central player now in global food aid distribution, it’s reasonable to expect more and more Canadian food finding its way to refugees.

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