Chris Alexander defends Canada's response to refugee crisis
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander says Canada has “done a lot” to ease the Middle East migrant crisis and the country should “continue accelerating our refugee resettlement, being generous as donors and taking the fight to ISIS.”
Alexander made the comments on CTV Power Play, where he was asked to defend Canada’s record in helping to assist the millions of people fleeing countries like Syria and Iraq, after a photo of a dead toddler on a beach in Turkey grabbed the world’s attention.
Alan Kurdi died trying to cross the Mediterranean for asylum in Europe. The boy’s aunt, Tima Kurdi, said that after his uncle had applied for refugee status in Canada and was rejected, she had not pursued a planned application for the Alan’s family.
Alexander announced Wednesday that he would temporarily suspended his re-election campaign to look into the case.
“The story of this little boy and this family illustrates what is happening to people dying as migrants, to people being slaughtered by extremists, but it also reminds us that we need to continue acting,” he said.
Alexander said that the application of Kurdi’s family was not rejected by Canada but was “returned to the family because it required additional documentation -- in this case, a convention refugee determination status from the UNHCR.”
“This case was passed along to the department and decided according to the rules that would govern consideration of any application,” he said.
Alexander said Canada has agreed to take 50,000 refugees from the two countries impacted by ISIS, and that “over half are here, mostly from Iraq, but the Syrian numbers are scaling up.”
Alexander elaborated that about 2,500 Syrians refugees have been resettled in Canada and that this “represents an acceleration.” He said he expects “many thousands more” from Syria to be resettled by the end of this year.
“We have brought the processing time down,” the minister added. “It’s not easy, it’s a complex process, but no country does it better than Canada.”
Alexander said that he doesn’t think any country has done more to resettle refugees who have fled to countries like Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. Alexander made a distinction between those refugees and “asylum seekers – the type that are going to Europe today.”
In his statement Thursday, Alexander said that Canada “has one of the most generous per capita immigration and refugee resettlement programs in the world.”
The statement said Canada has already resettled 22,000 refugees from Iraq and 2,300 from Syria, after promising to bring in 23,000 Iraqis and 11,300 Syrians over several years.
Stephen Harper has also said that a re-elected Conservative government would bring in 10,000 more refugees from the Middle East over the next four years.
Experts dispute ‘most generous’ claim
Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman told CTV News that Canada lags far behind other countries in taking in refugees.
Sweden, for example, has taken in tens of thousands, despite having about one-third of Canada’s population. Germany is expected to take in at least 800,000 asylum seekers this year.
“To compare us to Sweden or Germany, it’s pretty embarrassing,” Waldman said.
Queen’s University Professor Sharry Aiken, who specializes in international refugee law, said for a Canadian to sponsor someone as a refugee, that person has to be formally recognized by the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
“If you haven’t gotten that letter from the UNHCR, you can’t get out the door,” she told CTV News Channel from Kingston, Ont.
In dire situations, such as the Syrian civil war, such a process doesn’t work, she said.
“Certainly, if we dropped that requirement, if we were willing to recognize that we were dealing with a crisis right now, we have to have an evacuation plan and we deal with the technicalities … that would make a big difference,” she said.