Canada will resettle another 10,000 Syrian refugees, minister promises
Syrian boys gather around a fire to warm themselves at a refugee camp in Marj al-Khokh village, southern Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015. (AP / Mohammed Zaatari)
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, January 7, 2015 12:10PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 7, 2015 4:38PM EST
OTTAWA -- A promise to 10,000 Syrian refugees that they will be able to find safe haven in Canada in the next three years needs to be backed up by a better system to get them here, advocates said Wednesday.
Communities are willing and able to take in those seeking shelter from the brutal violence in Syria, but changes are needed to the asylum program, refugee groups and opposition politicians say.
"We have a problem in our refugee resettlement system: very long delays, limitations on who you can sponsor -- there are issues to be addressed and these issues will remain," said Faisal Al Azem of the Syrian Canadian Council.
"But that number is a huge step forward, so in that sense we are thankful and positive."
The Conservative government made the new commitment after months of pleading from refugee groups and Syrian Canadians for a drastic increase in the number of spaces available to Syrian refugees.
An estimated 3.2 million people have been displaced by the ongoing civil war in the country and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had hoped to resettle 100,000 globally by the end of 2016.
Canada's new pledge is the answer to that call, said Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.
"We do this not only because we can, but because it is right and just," Alexander said in a statement.
The UNHCR welcomed the announcement as "in keeping with Canada's strong humanitarian tradition to offer resettlement to refugees worldwide."
But many are taking a wait-and-see approach to whether that promise will be kept.
In the summer of 2013, the Conservatives agreed to resettle 1,300 Syrians by the end of 2014, but it took months to get the program going and the full commitment is not expected to be met until March of this year.
"We need to ensure the process really will be timely and responsive to the refugees, but also to the private sponsors who will be carrying quite a load on this," said Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.
"If we can do economic immigrants in six months, we can do refugee asylum seekers in six months."
Private sponsors will be asked to take in roughly 60 per cent of the newly identified 10,000 refugees and the government will resettle the rest.
Many private groups had said they were caught off-guard by the 2013 program, creating initial delays in the application process that were further complicated by bureaucratic back-ups.
A spokesman for Alexander did not answer a question about what, if any, changes were being implemented.
The NDP's Paul Dewar said he's glad the government's made the promise, but isn't convinced they'll fill it.
"This was an announcement. We want to see an action plan to realize the actual pronouncement of the government," he said.
"If we don't see actual details on how they're going to do it, this will be just like previous announcements.... If they couldn't do 1,300 in a year and a half, how is it they going to do 10,000 in three years?"
In addition to more Syrian refugees, the government announced a further increase to its commitment to those from Iraq, saying an additional 3,000 would be resettled by the end of 2015, on top of the 20,000 already in Canada.
They also announced an additional $90 million in humanitarian assistance for the region.