Media Release
For Immediate Release

16 April 2007

Canada urged to resettle more Iraqi refugees

Montreal.  As governments gather in Geneva to discuss the world response to the crisis facing Iraqi refugees, the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) and Iraqi community organizations in Canada today called on the Canadian government to resettle more Iraqi refugees.

“The ongoing daily violence in Iraq has forced many, many people to flee threats to their lives,” said Elizabeth McWeeny, CCR President.  “We are dismayed that Canada has so far opened its door to only a very few Iraqi refugees, even though many Canadians have come forward with offers of sponsorship.  There is an enormous crisis facing Iraqi refugees, but from the Canadian government there is nothing but deafening silence.”

The CCR, the Iraqi Community Centre (Montréal), Iraqi Federation of Refugees (Guelph), Iraqi Minorities Refugee Advocacy, Salam Social Club, Iraqi Chaldean Refugee Community (Toronto), Asmaro Chaldean Society (Windsor), Babylonian Ethnic Society and St. Maratken Community Society Inc are concerned Canada has given no indication of any specific commitments to respond to the crisis facing Iraqi refugees.  Worse, the Canadian government rejects about half of the Iraqis currently in Syria or Jordan applying as privately sponsored refugees.  The Canadian government has failed to announce any target for the resettlement of government-assisted Iraqi refugees.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 2 million Iraqis have sought refuge in nearby countries, primarily in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.  In addition, an estimated 1.9 million people are displaced internally within Iraq.

On April 17-18 the UNHCR is hosting in Geneva the International Conference on Addressing the Humanitarian Needs of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons inside Iraq and in Neighbouring Countries.  One of the goals of the conference is to develop an international effort in order to share the responsibility currently borne by neighbouring states.

One easy way for the Canadian government to respond would be simply to work with the many organizations in Canada who have already indicated an interest in resettling Iraqi refugees.  Under Canadian immigration law, Canadian organizations or groups of individuals can apply to privately sponsor refugees in need of resettlement, in return for an undertaking to assist them on arrival in Canada.  Many organizations have applied to sponsor Iraqi refugees, but have been shocked by the high refusal rate by Canadian visa officers.  Refused Iraqis include families that have endured death threats and kidnappings.  For example, one refused family had had a young daughter kidnapped and killed.  Many of those refused are from minority groups known to be particularly at risk in Iraq.

Last year it is estimated that only a few hundred Iraqi refugees were resettled to Canada (Citizenship and Immigration Canada has not made statistics available).  In contrast to past years, the government has not even made public its target resettlement numbers by region for 2007.

Few Iraqi refugees are able to make the journey to Canada in order to make a refugee claim here: in 2006, only 179 claims by Iraqis were referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board (out of a total of 22,873 claims).  Those who do make it face a long wait for a hearing, which in some cases means prolonged separation from family members living with daily risk of violence in Iraq.

For more information, see backgrounder.

Janet Dench, CCR Executive Director, (514) 277-7223 (ext. 2)
Colleen French, CCR Communications Coordinator, (514) 277-7223 (ext. 1)
Moayed Altalibi, Iraqi Community Centre, (514) 703-1348
Jalal Saeed, Iraqi Federation of Refugees, (519) 841-1816
Helen Smith-McIntyre, St. Maratken Community Society (306) 717-5110