September 10, 2015
An Image Speaks a Thousand Words – The Tragedy of Young Alan Kurdi and the Syrian Refugee Crisis
The horrific image of a drowned Syrian toddler trying to make it to Canada made headlines across the globe last week, bringing a renewed focus to the millions of Syrians forced to flee the country’s ongoing civil war. This heartbreaking photograph of young Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on Turkish shores, is an appalling reminder of the conflict’s many casualties.
Increased media coverage of the conflict raging in Syria and the resulting migration crisis has led many to question whether Canada is doing enough. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that more than 4 million people have fled the Syrian civil war thus far, with another 7 million internally displaced. The scale of this emergency is staggering.
In 2013, then-Immigration Minister Kenney promised that Canada would resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014. This commitment was met in March 2014, with 864 refugees being privately sponsored and the remaining 434 assisted by the government.
In January 2015, the Canadian government pledged to resettle a further 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years. Thus far, the government has resettled 1,074 people, of which 857 were private sponsorships. Prime Minister Harper has now pledged to resettle a further 10,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq over the next four years. Despite these commitments, many critics are voicing concerns over how these refugees will actually make it onto Canadian soil without a clear action plan.
Many may not realize the hurdles faced by refugees attempting resettlement in Canada. Processing times are lengthy, with the private sponsorship process taking at least a year or far longer, depending on where the application is submitted. With most Syrian refugees resettled to date relying on the private sponsorship system, these processing timelines pose a significant challenge. Since 2012, private sponsorship applications also require proof that a claimant has been granted Convention Refugee status by the UNHCR or a foreign state. This adds another barrier to those in desperate situations. Unfortunately, there is currently no mechanism in place to approve applications on an urgent basis.
Some have suggested that refugee claimants ought to be allowed to enter Canada with Temporary Resident Permits while their applications are in process, rather than be forced to await lengthy processing times. Other critics point to the past, highlighting that Canada has demonstrated the capacity and expertise to mobilize much more quickly than what is happening in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. In speaking with the CBC, Former Chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board, Peter Showler, argued that the Canadian government should send over an immigration team to complete urgent assessments and bring over 10,000 to 20,000 refugees immediately. Although there are no simple answers, with Europe facing the greatest influx of refugees since the Second World War, there is no doubt that magnitude of this migration crisis is enormous.