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Issue 495 -- 23rd - 29th July 2011
Scarborough Restaurant Owner Pleads For Canadian Government To Help Somalia
Scarborough, Canada, July 23, 2011 – There were many pleas for the Canadian government to take action in the Horn of Africa, and when it came time, Khadar Abdi added his own.
Most days, Abdi serves lunches of goat meat or chicken and rice to his customers in Scarborough. On Thursday, July 21, he welcomed federal Liberal Leader Bob Rae, past and present MPs, relief agency managers and leaders of East African communities to his small plaza restaurant, the Sinai Cafe.
"It doesn't matter how tough it is, we need our government to help our people," said Abdi, who had stood to hold open the door for every guest.
"It's our grandfather, it's grandchildren, it's our mom who's dying over there."
Rae said the Liberals invited people from the Somali and Ethopian communities - some of whom, like Abdi, call Somaliland, a breakway region of Somalia, their homeland - to ask how they wanted Canada to respond to famine in the region.
Many said they wanted to work in Somalia through local non-governmental organizations they trusted.
Somalia has a barely-functioning "transitional" government, and much of the country even before a devastating drought began was controlled by Al-Shabab, which Canada considers a terror group.
Rae suggested Canada was challenged to solve problems in a country where there is, he said, no government, the most poverty, the worst corruption and the most violence. Canada sends food aid to Somalia through the United Nations but has no office or diplomats there.
Hodan Dirieh, program director of Madbakh Women's Initiative in Etobicoke said Canada has been focusing on Al-Shebab and terrorism instead of looking at what's really going on, the famine.
"They're saying we can't send money. We're shackled with political correctness," said Hassan Adan, relief co-ordinator for the Aran Somali Canadian Relief Organization on Weston Road.
"There's 2.7 million people who are on the road as we speak," headed toward relief camps, Adan said, adding a cousin has already "died from this battle" with hunger.
Many in the Somali community want to go back and help, he said.
Rae said he would endorse calls for Canada to appoint a special envoy to the region, and add a "special political effort" towards resolving the area's long-standing turmoil.
Liberal MPs will try to recall a parliamentary committee for hearings on addressing the famine next month, after Federal International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda returns from a tour of the region, he said.
Several in the Wexford restaurant also asked Rae for a working group or task force on the crisis. Rae said it must be established by the East African communities themselves.
Halima Saad of the Women's Initiative said the crisis is an opportunity 20 years in the making, since people long divided over politics of the region have come together to help people back home.
So far, relief money for the famine hasn't flowed in like it did after disasters in Japan or Haiti, said Matt Capobianco, of the Toronto-based agency GlobalMedic. He added the organization could send medics to feeding stations in East Africa tomorrow, but "I just don't have the funds to do that."
Many at the restaurant argued small NGOs, based in Toronto or East Africa, could do a better job delivering aid there than the largest relief agencies.
Rae told them they may have to prove to Canada's government money they sent to smaller NGOs was being spent correctly before the government will match the funds. "The community has to be more aware of the concerns that every Canadian government would have about accountability," he said.
Among the guests was Etobicoke North MP Kirsty Duncan, who said her constituents are heavily impacted by the crisis, Scarborough-Guildwood MP John McKay, York West MP Judy Sgro, and former Liberal MPs Yasmin Ratansi and Maria Minna.
Source: Inside Toronto