Resettle 10,000+ Refugees from Syria and Reunite Families

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How serious is the Syrian refugee crisis?

Security conditions, rights and protections are rapidly deteriorating for more than three million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. An additional 6.5 million are believed to have been forced to move within Syria’s borders.

All of Syria’s neighbors have either closed their borders or imposed limits on how many refugees can enter their countries, exposing refugees to violence but leaving them with nowhere to flee. The World Food Program recently announced  a cut back on food rations that are the only barrier to starvation for almost six million refugees and displaced people. Syrian refugee children face serious health threats and lack of education. 

What’s the situation in the current host countries?

The majority of the three million refugees live in host communities. Many of these refugee families live in makeshift settlements and are exposed to harsh elements, putting them at increased risk of disease. There has been a massive impact on local services, natural resources and systems.

What about the Palestinian refugees in Syria?

Palestinian refugees from Syria are particularly vulnerable as they are not being offered the same protection and humanitarian assistance as other Syrian refugees. Human Rights Watch has documented that while fleeing violence in Syria, they are denied entry or forced back. The 18,000 Palestinian refugees who are trapped inside the Yarmouk refugee camp currently face starvation, malnutrition, disease and lack of water. 

What has the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) requested of countries like Canada in terms of resettlement?

Recently, the UNHCR has assessed that “the number of Syrian refugees who are in need of resettlement or other admission will grow. There are many who are very vulnerable and need an urgent response. There may be others who will be unable to return home in safety and dignity in the foreseeable future.” So, in Feb. 2014, the UNHCR asked countries to commit to admitting 100,000 Syrian refugees over 2015-2016 (on top of the 30,000 requested for 2014). 

How has Canada responded to these UNHCR requests?

According to Chris Alexander, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, “We welcome 1 out of every 10 of all resettled refugees globally.” Based on this existing policy, Canada should have admitted 3,000 Syrian refugees by 2014 and would be expected to welcome another 10,000 by 2016.

Unfortunately, to date, Canada has struggled to process even the shockingly small number it has committed to:  200 Syrian refugees and another 1,100 refugees privately sponsored by community organizations and churches. Surprisingly, no commitment has yet been made to the UNHCR request made nine months ago for resettling Syrian refugees in 2015-2016.  

How does Canada’s performance on resettling Syrian refugees compare to its past responses to similar crises?

This very slow and low-level response stands in stark contrast to Canada’s historical and recent responses to similar crises.  The Globe and Mail noted that "in the past, Canada has been much more generous. In 1999, Canada resettled more than 5,000 Kosovo refugees. In 1992, Canada resettled 5,000 Bosnian refugees. In 1979, Ottawa sponsored 4,000 Vietnamese boat people. The response to Syria seems paltry by comparison.”

No fast-track or flexible programs for admission and family reunification have been introduced for Syrians as was done for victims of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake or the Philippines 2013 typhoon.

How is Canada’s performance compared to other leading Western countries on the Syrian refugee crisis?

To date, Germany has resettled 6,000, welcomed another 11,800 Syrian asylum seekers and promised to offer protection — in the form of renewable, two-year residence visas — to another 20,000 of Syria’s most vulnerable victims. Family reunification programs have also been implemented.

Sweden, a country with only about a quarter of Canada’s population, has given permanent resident status to more than 30,000 Syrians. Since Sept. 2013, Syrians arriving in Sweden are given permanent residence and are allowed to bring their immediate family members to live with them. 

What could Canada do?

Commit to welcoming at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2015-2016 that are prioritized by the UNHCR for resettlement or humanitarian admission. The most vulnerable include: women and girls at risk, survivors of violence or torture, refugees with medical needs or disabilities, refugees at risk due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, vulnerable older refugees, and refugees in need of family reunification.

In addition, welcome Palestinian refugees from Syria, as they are particularly vulnerable and are not offered the same protection or assistance offered to other Syrians. This should not affect their right of return as per UNGA resolution 194.

Ensure there is an appropriate mix of programs for admission including a high level of government sponsorship supplemented by private sponsorship for resettlement as permanent residents. 

Introduce flexible provisions to allow Syrian family members of Canadian citizens, permanent residents and accepted refugees to come to Canada, at least on a temporary basis, as recommended by the Canadian Council for Refugees.

Facilitate these programs rapidly and without delay by providing the required resources and coordination. 

It is important that Canada does its fair share on all fronts to assist and protect vulnerable people fleeing violence in Syria. This will enhance our relations with the peoples and countries in the region and is consistent with our proud Canadian tradition of welcoming refugees and facilitating family reunification.

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