Canada could have helped Syrian refugees much sooner had the former Conservative government not blocked a crucial rule change aimed at making sponsorship easier.
Chris Alexander, the former immigration minister, twice said no to proposals to facilitate private sponsorship, which would ultimately have allowed private sponsors, already lining up to help, to begin bringing in refugees as early as March 2015.
But Alexander said no in March and again in July, and only acted when Canada’s willingness to accept refugees was tied to the death of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy pictured washed up on a beach after drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.
In Numbers: Canada’s Push to Welcome Refugees Since October
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The rule change, eventually passed in September, allowed small, private groups to sponsor Syrian and Iraqi families regardless of whether they had official UN refugee status.
The original rule was put in place in 2012 in response to the sponsorship system being used as a means of reuniting families. The concern was that those more in need were being ignored in favour of those chosen by sponsors.
Under the Conservatives, Canada’s target was to bring in 10,000 Syrians and Iraqis over four years. This dramatically changed once the Liberals came to power.
Instead, 25,000 government and privately sponsored refugees were admitted between October and February, with the official number now up to 30,136. The government has had a hand in 19,136 of that total, with 11,000 entirely privately-sponsored refugees currently in Canada.
Although the Liberals missed their election campaign target of bringing in 25,000 government-sponsored refugees by the end of 2015, it is unarguable that Justin Trudeau’s election victory represented a sea change in attitudes towards bringing in those in need.
As several major countries struggle with negativity towards newcomers, Canada continues to welcome them, with current Immigration Minister John McCallum saying the people have shown support for increasing numbers of immigrants in the coming years.
Global Negativity Towards Refugees and Immigration
- UK: Voted in a referendum to leave the European Union, with one of the major issues being the ability to control its borders
- USA: Donald Trump has ridden a wave of anti-immigration sentiment to become the Republican nominee for president. He has lost ground lately, as he tries to soften his stance on the subject.
- France: Faced international ridicule for banning the ‘burkini’ – a swimsuit mainly worn by Muslims.
- Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen her approval rating plummet following a move to allow hundreds of thousands of refugees to stay in the country.
- Canada: Has sponsors lining up to welcome Syrian families, with McCallum reporting he is the only immigration minister in the world facing complaints about a lack of refugees.
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