POLITICS

Canada to accept 1,000 more refugees from Bhutan over next two years

03/27/2013 01:26 EDT | Updated 05/27/2013 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - Canada will resettle an additional 1,000 refugees from Bhutan.

The newcomers are ethnic Nepalese who were expelled from the Himalayan kingdom in the late 1990s and have been living in refugee camps ever since.

The United Nations began resettlement efforts in 2007 and Canada is one of seven countries involved in the program.

The Immigration Department says to date, about 5,000 Bhutanese refugees have settled in Canada.

Who gets to come in the new wave of resettlement will be decided over the next two years.

"We recognize the importance of family reunification in this process, and resettling refugees who already have family in Canada will help them adjust much faster and more easily," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said in a statement.

Canada currently accepts about 10 per cent of the refugees targeted for resettlement by the United Nations and has committed to increasing the number of refugees resettled overall by 20 per cent by this year.

But figures from last year show the government is falling short of its target.

Statistics show that the number of refugees resettled in Canada in 2012 was down 26 per cent from 2011.

The department blames unstable global situations for the decline, noting that it was forced to close the visa office in Damascus, which was responsible for processing thousands of refugee applications from the Middle East and North Africa.

The Conservatives are also cutting back on the number of refugees the government resettles, transferring more of the responsibility onto private groups.

They've also dramatically scaled back health benefits provided to refugee claimants, though those accepted to Canada via the United Nations are not affected by those changes.