09/03/2015 12:18 EDT | Updated 09/03/2016 05:59 EDT

Canadian Council For Refugees: This Country Failed Syrian Boys Who Drowned

OTTAWA — Refugee and human rights advocates are urging the federal government to lift obstacles to speedy family reunification in order to help Syrian refugees with relatives in Canada.

The call to do more comes amid shock and outrage after two young Syrian boys and their mother — who apparently wanted to join family in Canada — drowned off the coast of Turkey.

The Canadian Council for Refugees and Amnesty International Canada called Thursday for Syrians with family in Canada to be allowed entry immediately to complete processing in safety.

The council wants flexible measures — such as temporary resident permits — to help expedite such cases.

It notes that because the boys had an aunt in Canada, they likely would have been able to get a Turkish exit permit if they wanted to leave to reunite with family.

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers accused the Conservative government of turning its back on desperate people. "This Syrian refugee crisis is one of the worst humanitarian tragedies of the past century and this government has utterly failed to respond in any meaningful way."

The Conservatives say their approach balances humanitarian assistance with a military effort against radicals rampaging through Syria.

In January, the government promised 10,000 Syrian refugees a home in Canada over the next three years.

They say that, as of late July, 1,002 people had resettled in Canada as part of that commitment. That's in addition to 1,300 Syrians settled under a pledge made in 2013.

The council for refugees urges an immediate commitment to a minimum of 10,000 government-assisted resettlement places for Syrians, in addition to Canada's regular resettlement numbers.

Current Canadian promises to take in Syrian refugees are made within existing commitments, so the numbers simply displace other refugees, the council said Thursday.

In past refugee crises Canada responded quickly and decisively, the council said. "In 1999 Canada took extraordinary measures to evacuate thousands of Kosovar refugees. The same level of commitment is needed now."

Both Amnesty and the council want elimination of barriers to the private sponsorship of refugees, including restoration of full interim federal health coverage and lifting of document requirements for groups who offer to sponsor refugees.

"These small boys could be alive today, if Canada had responded more appropriately to the Syrian refugee crisis," said Loly Rico, the council's president.

"We shouldn't need to wait for a tragedy like this to realize we must open our doors. We don't want to see any more children die in this way."

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