Letter concerning resettlement of Syrian refugees

14 January 2015


The Honourable Chris Alexander, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
365 Laurier Street West
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 1L1

Dear Minister,

I am writing to follow up on your important announcement last week regarding Canada’s commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees over the coming three years.

The Canadian Council for Refugees welcomes the commitment. It is important that Canada offer a strong response to the catastrophic refugee crisis affecting Syrians by opening the door to resettlement, as well as in other ways. We also greatly appreciate the significant financial contribution pledged in humanitarian aid, which represents Canada’s strong commitment to refugees in great need.

We nevertheless have a number of questions and concerns about the announcement.

As you know, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is seeking commitments for 100,000 resettlement spaces by the end of 2016. Canada’s commitment is for three years. We encourage you to announce the commitment by year, so that we can know what portion of the two-year 100,000 objective Canada is planning to meet. It is also important that Canada undertake to resettle a significant number of refugees as quickly as possible: we must not delay assistance to refugees who are in crisis now.

We are also very concerned at reports in the media that the new Syrian resettlement commitment will fall within existing resettlement numbers. This would mean that the commitment to the Syrian refugees is at the expense of other refugees, who are also very much in need of resettlement. We are thinking in particular of refugees in Africa, who have long been neglected. Will the announcement regarding Syrian refugees entail delaying or cancelling commitments already made towards other refugee groups under the multi-year plan?

As you know, in December 2011, your predecessor Minister Kenney announced at a meeting commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention, in Geneva: “We pledge to increase the number of refugees we resettle by 20%.” 

It does not appear that this pledge has been met. In 2011, Canada’s target for resettled refugees (low end) was 11,200 and Canada in fact resettled just under 13,000 refugees. The target (low end) for 2015 is 11,900.

The UNHCR’s request for Syria is in addition to its annual appeal for resettlement numbers. The government of Canada’s response should be the same.

We urge the government to make the newly announced commitment for 10,000 Syrian refugees  over and above the regularly planned refugee levels. This would be an important way of acknowledging the increased numbers of refugees globally and would enable Canada to meet its pledge.

We were disappointed to hear that 60% of the number committed to are to be privately sponsored, rather than assisted by the government. This is a particular concern given that there was not meaningful consultation with the private sponsors or agreement by them that they were in a position to meet the targets you have now assigned them. We question whether it is appropriate for the Government of Canada to make a commitment on behalf of the private sector.

As you know, there are increasing barriers to private sponsorship which make it difficult for the private sector to take on as many sponsorships as in the past. One of these is the impact of the cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program in June 2012. Despite the restoration of some services in November 2014, privately sponsored refugees continue to be denied IFH coverage for medications and prostheses. This means that some groups will hesitate to submit sponsorships for Syrian refugees because of  the fear of facing catastrophic medical costs.

We would also be grateful for reassurance from you that refugees will be selected for resettlement on the basis of need, and without discrimination based on religion. We were deeply concerned at reports at the end of last year that the Canadian government may be considering restricting to religious minorities its commitment to resettle Syrian refugees. This would mean discriminating against Muslim refugees in need of resettlement. Non-discrimination is a fundamental underlying principle of all human rights law, including refugee protection.

We hope to hear confirmation that Canada will be seeking all referrals for Government Assisted Refugees from the UNHCR and that you will be sending a clear message to the UNHCR that Canada seeks referrals based solely on need.

Given that so many Syrian refugees are coming to Quebec, we would be grateful to know about plans for the allocation of numbers to Quebec and about the results of consultations with the Quebec government.

Finally, we urge you again to consider introducing special measures for Syrians with family in Canada. The inability to assist their family members is causing severe anguish for many Canadians of Syrian origin. An effective and inexpensive measure would be to introduce flexible provisions to allow family members of Canadian citizens, permanent residents and accepted refugees to come to Canada. Temporary Resident Permits, with the possibility of access to permanent residence later, would allow for a response to people still within Syria, who cannot benefit from the government’s resettlement program.

Thank you for considering these comments and we look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,


Loly Rico