January 14, 2015
Canadian Government Pledges to Resettle 10,000 Additional Refugees Over Next 36 Months
Recently, the United Nations Refugee Agency made an appeal to countries to resettle an additional 100,000 Syrian refugees across the world. Last week, Canada responded. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced on 7 January 2015 that Canada would settle more than 10,000 additional Syrian refugees over the next 36 months.
In light of repeat media reports about the truly unfortunate situation for Syrians, this is a most welcome first step. In terms of the specifics of the pledge, 60% of the refugees are to be sponsored by private organizations, such as church groups, and the Canadian government will sponsor the other 40%. Canada has also pledged an additional $90 million in humanitarian assistance for the region.
Minister Chris Alexander’s comments come on the heels of the announcement by U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, earlier this year that Syrians are now largest refugee population in the world.
“Five years ago Syria was the world’s second-largest refugee hosting country. Syrians are now about to replace Afghans as the present biggest refugee population worldwide,”
“It breaks my heart to see this nation that for decades welcomed refugees from other countries, ripped apart and forced into exile itself,” Guterres told the 193-member U.N. assembly.
A U.N. report states that “at more than three million as of June 2014, Syrian refugees now account for 23 % of all refugees being helped by UNHCR worldwide”. Canada’s pledge satisfies 10 % of the 100,000 refugees target by the latest U.N. appeal and far exceeds the pledges of many other countries – a laudable move.
Key issues in the implementation of this pledge will be the division of responsibility sharing between the government and the private sector, government processing speeds, the manner in which the government prioritizes different groups within the broader refugee contingent and successful integration of Syrian refugees.
Private/Government Divide in Responsibilities: Given the numbers and the timeline Canada has pledged, the resettlement will be a large task for both private groups and the government alike. Private sponsors, which are at times quite thinly-stretched, will need to be strategic in their priorities and ensure that an adequate amount of resources is secured and used efficiently. The government will also need to be involved responsibly in order to ensure that private sponsors possess the requisite capabilities of their demanding role.
Speed: Syrian refugees need protection quickly. Processing speed will be key given rapidly deteriorating conditions for Syrians. Agencies involved with the resettlement must be adequately staffed and uphold high standards of competence.
Integrity: The government has announced that it will prioritize certain groups. This prioritizing will need to be monitored as to ensure that it is fair, compliant with Canada’s international obligations and would not undermine the integrity of Canada’s globally recognized refugee determination system.
Integration: Once the refugees arrive, Canada will need to take steps to aid in their successful integration. Canadians will need to address the obvious systemic factors which can make the integration of refugees a challenge, such as employment prospects, any necessary language training and the inevitable cultural shifts which are involved in relocating to a different country. The broader Canadian population will also have an incredibly important responsibility to ensure that these resettled individuals know their lives are valued and that they are welcome here.