Statement - Syrian refugees: responding to all

The Canadian Council for Refugees welcomes the announcement by the federal government of a Syrian Family Links initiative, designed to connect Syrian refugees who have family in Canada with Canadian private sponsors seeking to identify refugees in need of resettlement.

This initiative addresses in part the CCR’s concern about the need to respond to people in Canada desperate to reunite with family members caught up in the Syrian refugee crisis (although unfortunately the initiative does not apply in Quebec, nor to refugees in countries other than Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey). The CCR encourages private sponsors to consider sponsoring refugees identified through this initiative.

The CCR continues to urge the government to adopt measures to respond to family members who will not be assisted by the Syrian Family Links initiative. This includes those in the refugee family reunification process: Syrians who have been accepted in the refugee claim process in Canada have the right to include immediate family members in their application, but they face years of delays before they receive permanent residence and their family members can come to Canada. It does not make sense that Syrian refugee children with a parent in Canada are waiting longer than resettled refugees to come to Canada. Family reunification needs to be expedited.

It is to be noted also that Syrians still in Syria cannot be sponsored as refugees: the CCR continues to recommend that the government implement special measures to respond to family members in Syria or in other regions of the world.

With respect to calls for recently arrived Government-Assisted Syrian refugees to be converted to private sponsorship, the CCR does not agree and wishes to underline that this would undermine the important principle that government resettlement and private sponsorship are two complementary but distinct programs. The government has a responsibility on behalf of all Canadians to resettle refugees. Through private sponsorship, Canadians can add to the number of refugees offered protection and a new home.

The federal government is to be commended for establishing a goal of 25,000 Syrian refugees resettled with government funding. They are being brought to Canada on an urgent basis, which is appropriate because of the crisis in the region, where many refugees do not have the basic necessities of life. Managing their reception is a significant challenge given the short timelines, so it is to be expected that there will be some glitches. The appropriate response is for the federal government to support the NGOs involved in overcoming the challenges, which the CCR believes is already being done. The scale of the problems faced with the reception of the Government Assisted Refugees may also have been exaggerated in some media coverage. 

27 January 2016