Canadian Refugee Law Office weighs in on Canada’s handling of the refugee crisis.
Earlier September, devastating pictures of the body of a three-year old Syrian refugee washed up on a Turkish beach, made international headlines around the world. Alan Kurdi and his family were on a dangerous journey across the sea in an attempt to make their way to Canada to reunite with his aunt, Tima Kurdi in Vancouver. Tima had been trying desperately to help her relatives resettle in Canada.
Undoubtedly, those dreadful images suddenly changed the focus of the Federal election campaign and it quickly became a topic of heated debate among the parties, with the Liberal party and the NDP demanding the Conservative government to do more.
Once again last week, the Syrian refugee crisis was at the forefront of the election campaign after the Globe and Mail reported that the Prime Minister’s office had directed “Canadian immigration officials to stop processing one of the most vulnerable classes of Syrian refugees this spring and declared that all UN-referred refugees would require approval from the Prime Minister[…]” Stephen Harper later adamantly denied the allegations of having political staff involved in approving refugee applications. However, he did confirm that they had halted the processing of refugee files referred by the UN for several weeks last spring for security reasons, and to ensure “the selection of the most vulnerable people (while) keeping our country safe and secure.” The Conservatives argue that their policy is not discriminatory and is helping to bring in the most vulnerable refugees such as Christians and other religious minorities. But opposition has argued that they are masking their anti-Muslim bias through their unfair policy and pandering to certain minority communities in light of the elections. The war in Syria has ravaged communities from all religious backgrounds including the majority of the country’s Sunni Muslim population and minority groups are not necessarily the most vulnerable. The “UN High Commission for Refugees says its policy is to help the most vulnerable, no matter their religion or ethnic background.” The government’s policy brings the debate back to the problematic interference of the Prime Minister’s office with the refugee selection process which should clearly be left to immigration officials to be completed.
Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau spoke for many when he described media reports of PMO interference as “disgusting.” And New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair accused Harper of “shaming” the nation.
The United Nations has long complained about the lack of interest in this crisis from the West and Canada has done little to prove it wrong. Mid-way during the campaign, and mostly compelled to do so after the tragic death of Alan Kurdi, the government came up with a plan to resettle 10,000 Syrians by the end of next year. The Liberals and NDP parties have promised to do more (Liberals have pledged to fast-track 25,000 people this year and the NDP has promised to process 10,000 refugees the year’s end).
The war in Syria has had a devastating impact; 250,000 people have been killed and at least four million people have been forced to flee the country with millions being internally displaced in what is being called one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent times. Canada has only resettled about 2,500 Syrian refugees in the last two years, despite having the space and infrastructure to accept more, and the government’s response has been slow and disappointing. Syrian refugees deserve Canada’s attention and interest. They deserve more. What’s left to see is the newly elected Liberal government will lead to a real solution to the refugee crisis.
1Joe Friesen, “Prime Minister’s Office ordered halt to refugee processing” (October 8, 2015), The Globe and Mail, online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/prime-ministers-office-ordered-halt-to-refugee-processing/article26713562/.
2Lee Berthiaume, “PMO’s Syrian refugee audit about more than security” (October 9, 2015), Ottawa Citizen, online: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/pmos-syrian-refugee-audit-about-more-than-security [Hereinafter, Syrian refugee audit].
3Lina Dib, “Targeted for extermination’: Harper says prioritizing Christian and religious minority refugees isn’t discriminatory” (October 10, 2015), Ottawa Citizen, online: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/98targeted+extermination+harper+says+prioritizing+christian/11430493/story.html.
4Syrian refugee audit, supra n2
5Michael Petrou, “Which refugees are better than others?” (October 9, 2015), Maclean’s, online: http://www.macleans.ca/news/world/which-refugees-are-better-than-others/.
6The Toronto Star, “Harper shut Canada’s door during Syria’s agony: Editorial” (October 11, 2015), online: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2015/10/11/harper-shut-canadas-door-during-syrias-agony-editorial.html.
8Agence France-Presse, “More than 250,000 people killed in Syria war: monitor” (October 16, 2015), Reliefweb, online: http://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/more-250000-people-killed-syria-war-monitor.
9Andy Blatchford and Stephanie Levitz, “PMO ordered ‘audit’ of Syrian refugees after security warning from U.S.: Harper” (October 7, 2015), Ottawa Citizen, online: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/report+intervening+syrian+refugee+processing+proves+harper+lack/11424071/story.html.