'Onerous' refugee system already improving: Alexander
Published Friday, September 4, 2015 9:25AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 4, 2015 2:11PM EDT
While Canada’s Immigration minister says changes are already underway to speed up Canada’s ‘onerous’ refugee application process, the campaigning Liberal and NDP leaders say the country can go beyond untangling bureaucratic red tape by committing to take more refugees.
Appearing on CTV’s Canada AM Friday, Alexander said changes are already underway to reduce the wait time for those escaping conflict in the Mideast.
“We have reduced the processing time for refugees coming from the region to under one year. It used to be much longer than that,” he said. “Our partners are pleased with that progress. But we want to go further. We want to be able to process people faster.”
On Thursday, the family of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old whose lifeless body was photographed on a Turkish beach after an attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Greece, revealed that his uncle had tried to enter Canada as a refugee, but was refused.
Tima Kurdi, aunt to the little boy, said her older brother Mohammad Kurdi’s application was denied because he did not have a Turkish work permit or proof of refugee status from the United Nations.
When her other brother, Alan’s father Abdullah, learned about the rejected application she says he weighed his own prospects and decided to seek asylum in Europe instead.
In a statement late Thursday, she implored the Canadian government “to work immediately to improve the application procedure based on the current humanitarian crisis.”
Alexander was asked Friday whether the current system is too onerous for refugees; he replied his ministry is trying to make the system easier.
“You’re right; it’s onerous. These people don’t have documents, some of them are invalid. It’s hard to get exit permits from these countries like Turkey,” he said.
He noted as well that the UNHCR – “Canada’s partner in this” -- has given official refugee status to only one per cent of the people who have fled Syria. But he said Canada has reduced the processing time for refugees coming from Syria and Iraq to less than one year.
“It used to be much longer than that. Our partners are pleased with that progress. But we want to go further. We want to be able to process people faster,” he said
He added that Canada still needs to follow the existing protocols and place the priority on those most at risk.
“There are checks that need to be made. We do need to make sure we are following our rules, that we are getting the people who are most vulnerable,” he said.
Asked Friday whether Canada could do more to improve the refugee application process, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Canada should look to how our country has responded to international refugee crises in the past “as a good model for how we should do it in the future.”
He said there need to be “immediate, short-term investments in increasing our capacity to process refugees rapidly” and that Canada should work with the UN to figure out how best to do that. But, he said, Canada has done more with less in the past.
“Ultimately, what is required isn’t about bureaucratic red tape; it's about political will," he said.
On Thursday, Trudeau vowed that under a Liberal government, Canada would “immediately” accept 25,000 Syrian refugees, rather than 10,000 Iraqi and Syrian refugees the Conservatives have promised to accept over the next four years.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said Thursday that the image of the dead Syrian boy represents a “far worse” problem that requires Canada’s continued involvement in the fight against Islamic State militants.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair responded Friday his party doesn’t believe the solution lies in “more bombing and more war.”
The crisis in Syria began as an uprising against a brutal dictator and has morphed into something much more complicated, Mulcair said, suggesting that much of what is happening now is a result of the U.S. and U.K. engaging in a “misguided war” in Iraq.
“When I hear answers from the prime minister that more war is the solution, I think well, no amount of military action would have saved that child on that beach yesterday. So let’s start acting to save lives immediately. Canada has done it in the past and we can do it again.”
At a campaign stop in Whitehorse Friday, Harper reiterated that his government has already pledged to increase the number of Syrian refugees Canada accepts over the next few years.
He also echoed Alexander’s pledge to ensure the refugee claim system is as efficient as it can be.
“Obviously, this is a war zone so there are security things that have to be checked. But look, we realize that we have to bring in more and we have to do it more effectively and quickly,” he said.
Former prime minister Joe Clark also weighed in Friday, saying he believes Canadian officials can speed up the refugee acceptance process, just as his government did when it adopted and expanded previous policies to allow more than 50,000 Vietnamese “boat people” into the country in 1979 and 1980.
Clark said, while his cabinet at the time was concerned some applicants might be former Communist officials who could pose a security risk, the applicant screening process worked as intended.