POLITICS

Fin Donnelly Bemoans 'Political Attacks' After Syrian Refugees' Deaths

09/06/2015 11:02 EDT | Updated 09/06/2015 11:59 EDT

The incumbent NDP candidate who accused Canada's immigration minister of inaction on behalf of a family of Syrian refugees says he is disappointed by the subsequent "unfounded political attacks."

Fin Donnelly gave numerous media interviews Thursday after it was revealed that there was a Canadian connection to that heartbreaking photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi's lifeless body on a Turkish beach.

The boy's five-year-old brother Galib and their mother Rehan also drowned trying to get to Europe by boat.

Donnelly, who is running for re-election in the British Columbia riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam, outlined how he had tried to assist the boys' aunt, Tima Kurdi, who lives in Coquitlam, B.C. to bring them and other relatives to Canada.

But by Saturday, he was accused of spreading misleading information and ducking the media after the story broke.

In a statement to The Huffington Post Canada Saturday, Donnelly gave a timeline of his involvement in the Kurdi file since March. He also noted that the government's rejection of a refugee application from Alan Kurdi's uncle sparked the "sense of desperation which resulted in this tragedy."

Tima Kurdi, who came from Syria more than two decades ago, wanted to sponsor her brothers Mohammed and Abdullah — the boys' father — as refugees to Canada. She worked with Donnelly's office to craft a letter to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander asking for help, which he hand-delivered in March.

"I delivered the letter to the minister and… nothing. We waited and waited, and you know, we didn't have any action," Donnelly told CBC News Thursday. "Now unfortunately we see the news and this is just horrific."

A copy of the letter, published online, shows Tima Kurdi pleading for help to bring Mohammed to Canada. It does not mention Abdullah. But Donnelly said in his statement that while the cover letter dealt with Mohammed's application, an attachment outlined the dire situation of both brothers.

"It was very clear that Tima hoped to sponsor her brother, Mohammed, first and then her brother Abdullah," Donnelly said.

fin donnelly tima kurdi

NDP MP Fin Donnelly, left, embraces Tima Kurdi, right, after a memorial service for Alan, Ghalib, and Rehan Kurdi in Vancouver on Sept. 5.

Tima Kurdi told an Ottawa Citizen journalist this week that Abdullah, Rehan, and the children were rejected as privately sponsored refugees in June by Citizenship and Immigration. Tima's husband said the same to The Canadian Press.

However, federal immigration officials announced Thursday they received no refugee application for Abdullah, but did get one submitted on Mohammed's behalf that was deemed incomplete and did not meet the regulatory requirements for proof of refugee status recognition.

Tima Kurdi later clarified that her family could only afford to apply for Mohammed, but intended to bring Abdullah and his family to Canada later.

She told reporters that after Mohammed's application was rejected, she anticipated the same would happen to Abdullah. She sent Abdullah money to pay smugglers to transport the family from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos by boat, but the vessel capsized.

Intense criticism of immigration minister

Alexander faced very sharp criticism online, with some going as far as to blame him directly for the tragic deaths.

One national columnist did not pull any punches with a tweet.

Alexander temporarily suspended his re-election campaign Thursday to return to Ottawa and get clarity on the situation.

But as more information offered some clarity on the Kurdis' interactions with Canadian immigration officials, some called on Donnelly to apologize.

In a clip released online, Rebel Media's Brian Lilley noted that Abdullah did not apply for citizenship, and suggested Donnelly made it seem otherwise in his interviews last week.

"Where's the apology from Fin Donnelly for spreading false information?" Lilley asked.

The hashtag #WhereIsFin became a trending topic on Twitter Saturday.

A clip from a CTV report, in which Robert Fife stated Donnelly pointed fingers and then "got it wrong," also made the rounds on social media.

Tim Laidler, Donnelly's Conservative opponent, re-tweeted a post calling for him to resign. He has since deleted it.

On Saturday, Donnelly said the focus now should be on solving the refugee crisis in Syria. He did not respond directly to a question from HuffPost asking what he would say to those calling him to apologize to Alexander.

"I am heartbroken by this situation. I am disappointed that some people are responding with misinformation and finger-pointing," he said in the statement. "Surely our task is clear. We can – and must – take immediate and meaningful steps to prevent further tragedies."

Donnelly attended a memorial service in Vancouver for the drowned Syrian refugees on Saturday.

Alan Kerim — the cousin who Alan Kurdi was named after — told about 200 mourners: "The young boys and mother didn't deserve what happened to them, just like all the other refugees who face a similar fate. The boys were too young to understand how bad the reality was. They were like any other children who wanted to play with toys and have fun."

Fin Donnelly's full statement:

The story of Tima Kurdi's family has put a human face on the crisis facing Syrian refugees, and it has focused international attention on the need for immediate action. I find it disappointing that some people have responded to this story by launching unfounded political attacks instead of focusing on solutions.

Here are the facts about my involvement with the Kurdi family:

  • On March 17, Tima Kurdi came to my office and told me about the terrible situation facing her two brothers Abdullah and Mohammed, and their families.
  • On March 24, I presented Minister Alexander with a package that outlined the situation of both brothers and their families. It included a covering letter attending to the refugee application of Mohammed, and a backgrounder on both families and their hopes to come to Canada.
  • Since then, my office and I have been working with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to find avenues to bring both brothers and their families to Canada. Throughout, it was very clear that Tima hoped to sponsor her brother, Mohammed, first and then her brother Abdullah.
  • When Mohammed's application was rejected, Abdullah and his family felt a tremendous sense of desperation which resulted in this tragedy.

I am heartbroken by this situation. I am disappointed that some people are responding with misinformation and finger-pointing. Surely our task is clear. We can – and must – take immediate and meaningful steps to prevent further tragedies.

With files from The Canadian Press

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