THE BLOG

Harper's Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis Is Inadequate

12/19/2014 02:00 EST | Updated 02/18/2015 05:59 EST
COLE BURSTON via Getty Images
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper pauses as he address the media alongside Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott(not shown) on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canda, June 9, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ Cole BURSTON (Photo credit should read Cole Burston/AFP/Getty Images)

*This post was co-authored by John McCallum

This week the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) held a conference in Berlin to restructure and highlight vital humanitarian programs to address the needs of the refugee crisis created by the war in Syria. They discussed re-coordination of short-term emergency assistance and long-term structural help. Of note, they also called on the international community to donate $8.4 billion in funds to help nearly 18 million people in Syria and across the region in 2015. This includes support for the displaced people inside Syria and addressing the needs of the millions of Syrian refugees in the region and the countries hosting them.

In light of this new appeal, will Canada finally exercise leadership, commit to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees, and increase our humanitarian aid contributions to the region?

The scale of the Syrian crisis is unprecedented in its scope: around 11 million people are dependent on aid and there are more than 3 million Syrians refugees in the surrounding region. This has left too heavy a burden on neighbouring countries that do not have the capacity to handle the crisis on their own. If we allow this situation to further deteriorate it will continue to destabilize the region. It is in the interest of the entire international community -- including Canada -- to help alleviate the suffering of displaced persons and provide at least minimum standards of safety and human dignity so they can start rebuilding their lives.

The response of the Canadian government under Stephen Harper has been inadequate in many ways. Canada has drastically failed in meeting its refugee resettlement commitments. Canada committed to resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014, but we have shockingly accepted only 457 Syrian refugees. Not only has this government failed to meet its own refugee resettlement targets, but they continue to ignore repeated calls by the UNHCR to increase Canada's intake of Syrian refugees. This stands in stark contrast to Canada's history of leadership in past refugee crises such as the over 50,000 Vietnamese "boat people" we accepted between 1975 and 1980 or the over 5,600 Ugandan Asians we helped rescue from Idi Amin's regime, not to mention earlier efforts that saw Canada take in many thousands of Czechs, Hungarians and Ukrainians fleeing persecution. The Liberal Party and Canada and a host of humanitarian groups have repeatedly called on this government to commit to resettling at least 10,000 Syrian refugees.

As today's appeal demonstrates, there remain significant financial gaps in the humanitarian response to this crisis. In pursuit of an election year surplus, the Canadian government lapsed $125 million in development assistance while UN agencies are facing severe funding shortfalls to save Syrians from brutal violence. The Harper government is not only failing millions of refugees, but it is not acting according to Canadian values. This callousness is especially hard to swallow during the holiday season and is unworthy of Canada. We can and must do better and call on the Harper government to rise to the challenge.

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