Shockingly low number of Syrian refugees in Canada despite government's pledge
Published Wednesday, March 19, 2014 7:57PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, March 20, 2014 2:18PM EDT
Nine months ago the Canadian government announced plans to resettle up to 1,300 refugees from war-torn Syria by the end of this year, adding it would immediately take in 200 people who were deemed high risk by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
But as of today, a shockingly low number have made their way to Canada.
“I believe what they offered at the time was because of political pressure,” says Loly Rico, president of the Canadian Council for Refugees, to Kevin Newman Live. Rico is from El Salvador and was a refugee when she came to Canada in 1990. She now works to help people through the process. Part of that political pressure was because other countries were accepting refugees. “They should increase the number of refugees and have a special program.”
Skip ahead to the 36-minute mark of the video above to see our full interview with Rico.
Rico says the government should have taken on more of the responsibility. Out of the 1,300 spots, only 200 are government-sponsored. The government is relying on private individuals to sponsor the other 1,100 people.
The Toronto Star reports the Immigration Ministry says no more than 10 government-sponsored Syrian refugees came to Canada in 2013. The National Post reports only nine Syrians were resettled in Canada between January and August 2013. It’s not clear if these refugees were part of the June pledge. Kevin Newman Live reached out to Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the immigration minister, but has not been able to get a more up-to-date number.
As we learn of the low number, the UN is also asking countries to offer refuge to an additional 100,000 Syrians in the next two years.
“It was clear at the time of the announcement that there was no clear intention to make them arrive by the end of 2014,” said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, to the Toronto Star. “We know that if you want people to arrive in the resettlement program . . . you have to make provisions to make that possible.”
Rico says the process now takes about nine months to a year and the government hasn’t made any special arrangements. In 1999 Canada allowed for Kosovo refugees to come to Canada under an accelerated program, but no program has been created for Syrians. Rico came to Canada with her husband and young children through an accelerated process during a civil war in El Salvador. They were out of El Salvador within 72 hours and were able to finish the process in Canada. She says in reality “they are making it more complicated and tying up the rules.”
“We have begun to resettle the most vulnerable, and are actively working with the UNHCR so we can fulfill our existing commitments, and then look at doing even more,” says Alexis Pavlich, press secretary for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, to Kevin Newman Live. “Hundreds of private sponsorship opportunities remain. We encourage Sponsorship Agreement Holders to do their part to help displaced Syrians as well.”
Pavlich added that on a recent trip to the region, Prime Minister Stephen committed $630 million in humanitarian, development and security assistance.
Antonio Guterres of UNHCR recently announced Syrians are on track to become the largest refugee population in the world. It’s projected there will be more than four million refugees by the end of the year. That’s more refugees than there were during the Rwandan genocide.
By contrast to Canada, Sweden has already welcomed 14,000 Syrian refugees and has given them permanent status.
Canada has not yet announced if it will accept more Syrian refuges beyond its original pledge.
Rico suggests Canada open up more spots on a temporary basis, similar to what the government has done with Kosovo and El Salvador. Once the refugees get here then they can continue the process. "With the idea of security, we are losing the traditions of Canada."