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Amnesty International welcomes Syrian refugee announcement, but questions and concerns remain

    January 07, 2015

    Amnesty International welcomed the announcement, made today by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, that Canada will receive 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years.

    Amnesty International has long been urging governments around the world to accept a fairer share of refugees from Syria. Syria’s neighbouring countries can no longer bear the responsibility for the largest displacement crisis the world has witnessed in decades, and which has produced approximately 4 million refugees in the region, as well as 7.6 million Syrians displaced within the country. It is vital that Syrian refugees be resettled as soon as possible, and Canada has the expertise and capacity to play a leadership role in doing so.

    While recognizing this announcement as an important and positive step, Amnesty International is nonetheless disappointed in several aspects of this long-delayed announcement.

    The organization, along with many other groups such as the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Syrian Canadian Council, had been urging the government to welcome 5,000 Syrians per year – via government programs – for the next two years. Additionally, Amnesty International had also asked the government to increase the quota for the private sponsorship of Syrians to Canada.

    Regrettably, today’s announcement means that only about 1,300 Syrians per year, over three years, will be eligible to come to Canada via government-sponsored programs.

    Amnesty International is also concerned that the government has made private groups responsible for 60 per cent of the resettlement commitment. These are grassroots organizations, largely composed of volunteers, who must raise the money to sponsor each refugee they resettle. Some private sponsors have told Amnesty International that they fear that these expectations are extraordinary particularly because the government has not fully restored health coverage including rehabilitation services for privately sponsored refugees. It is not clear from the government announcement whether private groups were adequately consulted about their ability to contribute to these numbers.

    Other concerns remain. Thus far Canada has failed to resettle its initial commitment of only 650 refugees per year, and it is not clear if the government will devote sufficient administrative resources to ensure that all future applications will be processed fairly and rapidly. 

    Furthermore, the announcement did not mention responses to the needs of particularly vulnerable Syrians still trapped inside Syria, nor did it allude to facilitating the reunification of extended family members. 

    For example, Amnesty International was recently contacted by a Syrian Canadian who was looking for help to bring his two orphaned nieces to Canada from Damascus.  Their mother and sole guardian was killed by a bomb shell when returning home from work this past June. The girls now live with their grandfather who is elderly and increasingly challenged to protect and care for them.

    Finally, in today’s announcement, the government did not clarify that the selection of refugees must take place – in line with UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ policy – on the basis of vulnerability and need, rather than religious affiliation.

    In Amnesty International’s view, today’s announcement, though incomplete and overdue, is a welcome first step. The organization urges the Government of Canada to follow up as soon as possible with the development and implementation of a comprehensive approach to the Syrian displacement crisis.

    For more information: Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations (416) 363-9933 ext. 332 bberton-hunter@amnesty.ca