Immigration Minister Chris Alexander was secretly warned in the spring that Canada would not be able to fulfil its promise made to the United Nations to accept 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of the year due to lack of planning. The revelations are contained in internal documents obtained by the press, and come amid growing frustration by some over the Conservative government’s response to what the UN has described as the worst humanitarian crisis in a generation.
Alexander’s office did not respond to requests for an update on the government’s commitment, made to the UN last year, to resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014.
Since 2011 after fierce fighting between the Syrian government and rebel forces erupted close to 2.5 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. The rapid rise of the Islamic State (ISIL) and other extremist groups has only made the situation worse.
In July 2013, Canada agreed to accept 1,300 Syrian refugees after the UN asked the international community to resettle 30,000 asylum seekers. The commitment included taking 200 through the UN, and having churches and private groups organize the rest.
However, the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association, which represents most of those private groups, hadn’t been warned its members would be responsible of such large numbers.
The association wrote to the Immigration Minister shortly after the July 2013 announcement, and again in March 2014, indicating it would be hard-pressed to fulfil the commitment for a variety of reasons, including the absence of an established link between the Syrian community and sponsorship groups.
Alexander had repeatedly said more than 1,150 Syrians had received “Canada’s protection,” a figure he also cited in the House of Commons throughout the spring. However, the documents show that only 219 had actually been resettled from overseas, of which 93 had arrived in 2014 and would count toward the commitment to take in 1,300.
Liberal immigration critic John McCallum says the fact the Conservative government won’t meet its own goals, demonstrates it has no real interest in accepting Syrians into Canada. NDP immigration critic Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe adds that the documents could explain why Alexander has been extremely evasive when asked to provide concrete numbers about how many Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada as part of its commitment to the UN.
Syrian Refugees by the Numbers
2.5 million: Syrian refugees registered with the UN
1,300: Syrian refugees Canada had committed to taking by the end of 2014, in response to the first appeal
200: Syrian refugees who were to come to Canada through government sponsorship
1,100: Syrian refugees who were to come to Canada through private sponsorship
0: Syrian refugees Canada has committed to taking in response to the second appeal
Source: Ottawa Citizen