Syrian Refugees In Crisis: Groups Ask Canada To Do Its Part

Dec. 12, 2014

Syrian Refugees – Canadian Government Silence

To: The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada

To: The Honourable Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

To: The Honourable Thomas J. Mulcair, Leader, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition

To: The Honourable Justin Trudeau, Leader, Liberal Party of Canada

To: The Honourable Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada

To: The Honourable Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe, Official Opposition Critic for Citizenship and Immigration

Canada continues to remain unaccounted for in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in a generation.

While millions of traumatized and vulnerable Syrians brace for the onslaught of yet another winter in exile, the Canadian government persists in refusing to make a meaningful commitment to helping to resettle these refugees in dire need.

Canada’s silence this week, at an international pledging conference in Geneva to find homes for up to 180,000 desperate Syrian refugees, was as devastating as it is appalling.

After months of promises and platitudes and general self-satisfaction with Canada’s past commitments to refugees, the government has done nothing to take a leadership role in the Syrian crisis.

Twenty-five countries signed up in Geneva to rescue and resettle 100,000 Syrians. Canada was not among them. We are still struggling to meet barely one-third of the target of 1,300 refugee resettlements we set for ourselves 18 months ago.

Canada can and should do better. At the very least, we should resettle up to 10,000 needy Syrians over the next two years. Humanitarian commitments by our government should be made without discrimination, and inclusive of all groups without regard to gender, age, ethnicity or religion.

We have the resources and the experience. What we need now is leadership. Syria should be no different from all the other crises in which Canadians have displayed their courage and generosity.

Signed:

1. Canadians in Support of Refugees in Dire Need (CSRDN)

2. Doctors For Humanity (DFH)

3. Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations (UOSSM)

Oct. 21, 2014

Canadian humanitarian groups are calling on their government to respond to the plea by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist in the global resettlement of 100,000 Syrian refugees. It is urgent that the Canadian government immediately commit to accepting and rapidly processing 10,000 refugees from Syria, in response to what the UNHCR has recently called “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era”.

Canada has agreed to accept up to 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014, however that number consists mainly of private sponsorships, while only 200 are government-assisted refugees. The target of 1,100 private sponsorships was arbitrarily set by the government, without any preparation or planning, or the making of any arrangements to expedite their approval.

The Canadian government recently suggested the possibility of considering a five-digit number in total from Syria in response to the UNHCR’s plea, however nothing has been done beyond the original commitment of 1,300 Syrian refugees. We are concerned that no other measures have been considered for Syrian refugees affected by this humanitarian crisis, particularly those with family in Canada. We therefore request an urgent meeting with Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, officials in his department, and representatives of the Sponsorship Agreement Holders, to discuss plans to increase and expedite refugee sponsorships and resettlement in Canada.

We request that our Government respond quickly to the UNHCR request to resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees, and that it lead by example by dramatically increasing its share of government-assisted refugees while also expediting the process of private sponsorships.

We request that our Government firmly commit to accepting 10,000 additional refugees from Syria, and that steps be taken quickly to support their arrival in Canada over the coming 18 months, in view of the major loss of life and inhumane living conditions faced by the people of Syria.

We request that our Government provide special expedited measures for affected Syrians with family members in Canada. The family reunification program can be enhanced to include a broader definition of family member, and Canada could issue temporary visas to allow family members of Canadian citizens, permanent residents and accepted refugees to come to Canada without delay.

As Canadian humanitarian organizations, our goal is to ensure that all people of all races and faiths have an opportunity to live free from oppression and the fear of persecution. We believe that Canada should meet its international obligations and continue to be a world leader in addressing humanitarian crises.

Groups in support of this call to action:

  1. Canadians in Support of Refugees in Dire Need (CSRDN)
  2. Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance (CISSA-ACSEI)
  3. Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holder Association (SAH Association)
  4. Doctors For Humanity (DFH)
  5. Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations (UOSSM)
  6. Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR)

For more information:

Media contact: Faisal Alazem (438-994-6293)

CSRDN contacts: Fayaz Karim (647-284-9973) and Dr. Muhammad Shrayyef (647-994-0154)

CISSA-ACSEI contact: Chris Friesen (778-995-3009)

SAH Association contact: Brian Dyck (204-925-1914)

DFH contact: Dr. Aliya Khan (647-557-8338)

UOSSM contact: Dr. Anas Al Kassem (905-617-3332)

CCR contact: Colleen French (514-277-7223 ext. 1)

Background

Article 14.1 of “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” states that every person has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. World crises have continually left their mark on Canada, and Canada has a long history of successfully supporting refugees globally. Canadians have repeatedly provided humanitarian assistance to people who have fled persecution or been displaced by conflict. Doukhobors, Sudeten Germans, Jews from Europe, Hungarian and Czech victims of the Cold War, Tibetans, Vietnamese boat people, Central Americans, Ugandan Asians, Chileans, Somalis, Lebanese, Iraqis, refugees from the former Yugoslavia, Albanian Kosovars, and Afghans have all sought and found shelter here. Assisting Syrian refugees through resettlement in Canada would be consistent with these earlier initiatives, and would alleviate tensions in the three major countries of asylum (Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan) where most Syrian refugees are located.

Currently, the Syrian people are suffering horrific persecution. There are more than 3 million Syrian refugees outside of Syria, with an estimated 6.5 million displaced persons within Syria whom are in need of assistance. The international community has asked that countries open their arms and accept these persecuted people living under inhumane conditions. The UNHCR has stated that many European states have responding admirably, including such measures as the de facto moratorium on returns to Syria, providing access to asylum procedures, and high protection rates being granted to Syrian refugees. Sweden has accepted 40,000 Syrian refugees since the Syrian conflict began, and is expecting more than 80,000 asylum seekers in 2014, many of whom will be Syrian. Germany recently agreed to accept 10,000 additional Syrian refugees, after already committing to accept 10,000 in 2013 and 2014. Australia has pledged to accept 5,600 Syrian refugees, despite their much smaller population than Canada.

Chris Friesen, Chair, Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance (CISSA-ACSEI), stated earlier this year that accepting 10,000 refugees from Syria would be in line with Canada’s past and current practice of receiving 1 out of every 10 UNHCR refugee resettlements: “With the recent UNHCR special appeal on resettlement spaces, we believe, building on Canada’s humanitarian refugee resettlement tradition that we should step forward to offer the UNHCR a minimum of 10,000 resettlement spaces or 10% of the current appeal over the next two years. We propose that these 10,000 resettlement spaces be over and above current refugee resettlement targets for both government-assisted refugees and privately-sponsored refugees.” Friesen commented recently that: “CISSA-ACSEI strongly urges the Government of Canada to support the UNHCR special appeal for resettling Syrian refugees announced in February 2014. We are able to resettle 10,000 Syrians in Canada across the country.”

Fayaz Karim, a representative of Canadians in Support of Refugees in Dire Need (CSRDN), expressed his concerns regarding delays in the arrival of Syrian refugees: “Canada had a distinguished record on humanitarian issues. For decades we have opened our doors to refugees from all parts of the world. It is disappointing that in one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern times, the Canadian government has chosen inaction by ignoring the plea of the UNHCR to help Syrian refugees and to give the innocent victims relief from this suffering and persecution. We have a moral duty to the vulnerable – our democracy and history demands better of us.” Dr. Muhammad Shrayyef of CSRDN described the crisis as being of “unbelievable proportions, and a major catastrophe that is destroying the lives of millions of innocent people.“

Dr. Aliya Khan, a representative of Doctors for Humanity (DFH), said in response to the Syrian crisis: “We need to advocate on behalf of the vulnerable women and children who have lost their homes and their families and are deeply traumatized by the war.”

Dr. Anas Al Kassem of The Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations (UOSSM) stated: “What I witnessed during my medical missions to Syria was devastating. The ongoing airstrikes, with TNT barrels and chemical weapons dropped on civilians on a daily basis, requires that we act on both a medical and an ethical level. The doctors of UOSSM are committed to treating the victims of this war, however, Syrian refugees need shelter and safe homes. Canada should play a leading role in responding to this humanitarian disaster.”

Professor Jennifer Hyndman, Director of York University’s Centre for Refugee Studies, stated that “Canada has always done its part in responding to international humanitarian disasters. I hope we step up soon. With 3 million Syrian refugees to date, and another 6-7 million displaced within Syria, the need for action is unassailable. Canada took extraordinary action, resettling 60,000 people, when they fled the violence of the Vietnam War and Cold War politics in 1979-80. Some 6,000 people forced to leave Uganda under Idi Amin were welcomed here in 1972. In 1999, we helped the Kosovars with a special resettlement program when they were being ethnically cleansed from their country by Slobodan Milosevic. Since then, the Canadian government has accepted thousands of Bhutanese and Burmese refugees who had been stuck in temporary camps for decades, allowing them to restart their lives here.”

Loly Rico, President of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), stated: “We know that there are many Canadians of Syrian origin who are deeply distressed about family members affected by the conflict – and whom they cannot bring to safety in Canada. We urge the government to introduce flexible provisions to allow family members of Canadian citizens, permanent residents and accepted refugees to come to Canada …”

Brian Dyck, Chair, Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holder Association (SAH Association), made the following statement on behalf of the SAH Association Council: “Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs) across Canada have begun sponsoring Syrian refugees who have a connection to people in Canada, while continuing our long-established work with other refugee populations. We expect Syrian refugee sponsorships will increase as relationships between sponsors and Syrian-Canadians develop and mature. Such relationships are essential, as we have seen with other refugee populations, because the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program (PSRP) requires significant supports to be in place before refugees are accepted for resettlement. Since 1979, private sponsorship has been an important complement to the Canadian government’s response to refugee situations, but it cannot take the place of the important commitment that Canada makes to resettle refugees when the UNHCR asks for states to step up“.

Canadians in Support of Refugees in Dire Need (CSRDN) is a non-profit organization formed to assist in the arrival of refugees to Canada, and in their resettlement and integration into Canadian society. CSRDN supports the Canadian Government in bringing relief internationally and in providing an opportunity for a new life and hope for those in desperate need.

The Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance (CISSA-ACSEI) is a national organization that represents the issues and expertise of the immigrant settlement sector to advance public policies and programs that enhance the settlement and integration of immigrants and refugees to Canada.

The Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holder Association (SAH Association) is a national non-government organization representing the majority of Canada’s Sponsorship Agreement Holders, providing a collective voice in promoting, supporting, sponsoring and resettling refugees in Canada.

Doctors For Humanity (DFH) is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing healthcare in Canada through public health education, and provides public education to inspire Canadians to actively participate in the prevention of illness and in the optimization of health.

The Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations (UOSSM) is a non-profit medical relief coalition of 10 international medical organizations, aiming to alleviate the suffering of Syrian victims of the war, and to provide them with medical supplies and the expertise needed to face the worst humanitarian crisis since the last world war.

The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) is a national non-profit umbrella organization committed to the rights and protection of refugees and other vulnerable migrants in Canada and around the world and to the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada. The membership is made up of organizations involved in the settlement, sponsorship and protection of refugees and immigrants. 

Full version of this press release available here: http://www.csrdn.org/pr-oct21-2014.pdf