POLITICS

Calls for Canada, other nations to step up commitments to Syrian refugees

12/05/2014 10:21 EST | Updated 02/04/2015 05:59 EST
OTTAWA - Even as the Canadian government struggles to meet its existing commitments to Syrian refugees, there is no reason that commitment can't be dramatically increased, Amnesty International Canada and the Syrian Canadian Council said Friday.

They are calling for Canada to resettle up to 10,000 people displaced by the Syrian civil war over the next two years and allow private groups to also increase the number they can sponsor.

"There's every reason in the world that Canada should be leading the charge in responding to this refugee crisis," Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada said on Friday.

The request comes ahead of a meeting in Geneva next week where the United Nations High Commission on Refugees will ask countries to increase their refugee resettlement commitments.

A request for help in 2013 by the UNHCR resulted in Canada promising to resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014, 200 by the government and the rest by private groups.

Yet the government is nowhere near meeting that goal.

The latest statistics, tabled in the House of Commons this week, show 457 have arrived — 294 sponsored by the government and 163 sponsored privately.

Since October 2013, there have been 2,343 applications from private sponsors, the documents said.

The government has blamed the lag in arrivals on the need for screening and other logistical hurdles connected with processing people from refugee camps.

But the delays mean it will take years before families approved for resettlement even arrive and in the meantime would-be sponsors are giving up even making applications, said Faisal Alazem, a spokesperson for the Syrian Canadian Council.

There seems to be no will on the part of the government to speed up the process and the Syrian Canadian community is asking why, considering the government's responses to past crises, he said.

"What is different between what happened in the Philippines and in Syria, the largest refugee crises since the creation of the United Nations even?" he said.

"Geography is one of the answers ... we hope that religion is not a factor but unfortunately it is something that is being talked about in the community."

After Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, the government pledged to fast-track visa applications for people affected by the storm. Since then, 1,540 Filipinos have entered Canada, according to media reports.

Canada is not alone in what Amnesty International called a pitiful response to the Syrian refugee crisis in a report released Friday.

Around 3.8 million refugees from are being hosted in five main countries in the region and only 1.7 per cent have been offered sanctuary by the rest of the world, the report said.

To what extent the Canadian government is willing or able increase its commitments is unclear.

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has given no indication that he, or anyone else from Canada, will attend the Geneva meeting next week.

But an Alexander spokesman promised that Canada will have something to offer soon.

"Canada is one of the world's largest providers of humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. To date, Canada has committed more than $630 million in humanitarian, development and security assistance to the Syrian crisis," Kevin Menard said in an e-mail.

"As the minister previously indicated, we will do more and details will be available in due course."