8 July 2013
The Canadian Council for Refugees welcomes the announcement by the federal government of a commitment to resettle some Syrian refugees.
The scale of the crisis in Syria is overwhelming and the number of people forcibly displaced is expected to grow even larger in the coming months. In the context of such massive displacement, resettlement is not a viable solution for anything but a minority of the refugees. Nevertheless, resettlement is an important tool of protection for particularly vulnerable refugees. It is also very appropriate that Canada respond in some way to the many Syrian Canadians who are desperately looking to help family members at risk.
While welcome, the commitment to resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014 raises a number of questions. Of this number, the government itself is undertaking to resettle a mere 200 refugees, apparently as part of its existing annual resettlement commitment. The CCR hopes that following this commitment, the government will in fact meet its target for 2013: in 2012 Canada fell more than 2,000 below its target for government-assisted refugees.
The remaining 1,100 Syrian refugees the government is committing to resettle are to be sponsored by the private sector. This is causing some surprise as it is not known that any private sponsors had individually or collectively signalled their capacity to take on this number of sponsorships (which represents a financial responsibility of between $8 million and $12 million).
Canadians, including those of Syrian origin, are keen to take advantage of the new openness to resettling Syrian refugees, and will certainly step forward. Nevertheless, private sponsors face a number of obstacles, including the following:
- Federal cuts to refugee health coverage mean that private sponsors of Syrian refugees could face massive unanticipated bills for such things as medications, dental care or prosthetics. While most refugees won’t need expensive care, groups hesitate to take on the risk of huge bills.
- Sponsorship Agreement Holders are barred from sponsoring refugees in Turkey. Yet Turkey is one of the main countries to which Syrian refugees have fled.
The CCR is pleased to see the commitment to expedite Family Class applications by Syrians, but regrets that the government has not yet introduced more flexible criteria for family reunification for Syrians, given the narrow definition of who can be sponsored (for example, an adult sibling cannot be sponsored in the Family Class). The government has recently announced proposals to restrict even further opportunities for family reunification, including reducing the age of dependent children from under 22 to under 19 years. If implemented these changes will close the door on more Syrians in need of safety and divide refugee families.
Canadians have long been rightly proud of our tradition of welcoming refugees through resettlement, but our recent record has been disappointing. The CCR hopes that the federal government will uphold its commitment to resettle refugees by providing the resources necessary to ensure their speedy arrival, restoring coverage for their medical needs and keeping families together. These are key elements in protecting and welcoming refugees.
For more information on recent changes in Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program, see http://ccrweb.ca/en/changes-private-sponsorship-refugees