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Open Letter to PM Harper on Canada`s Contribution to Refugee Crisis

    September 03, 2015

    The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
    Prime Minister of Canada
    80 Wellington Street
    Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
    By fax: 613-941-6900
    By email:

    September 3, 2015

    Dear Prime Minister Harper,

    We are writing this Open Letter to you and to the leaders of all federal parties with an appeal for politics and campaigning to be put aside and for the government to take immediate, concrete and generous steps to significantly boost Canada’s contribution to the mounting Syrian refugee crisis. 

    The need for meaningful Canadian action has become all the more urgent with the agonizing news that there is a Canadian connection to the heartbreaking case of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year old Syrian toddler whose body washed ashore this week on a Turkish beach.  The tragedy that has befallen Aylan Kurdi and his family dramatically underscores that this crisis is not one for Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan alone to bear at the frontlines.  It is not a crisis limited to Greece, Italy, Hungary and others faced with mass influxes.  It is not a crisis which the European Union alone must resolve. 

    The human rights and humanitarian crisis in Syria is global.  The staggering refugee crisis it has provoked is global.  The solutions must be global.  Indeed it is also Canada’s crisis and Canada must act decisively and generously in opening up safety for the growing number of refugees who are faced with the impossible choice of remaining in desperate conditions in refugee camps or of making terrifying journeys and risking their lives to escape endless suffering.

    There has been considerable debate over the past year about the number of Syrian refugees who will be accepted for resettlement to Canada.  Last year Amnesty International called on the government to make a commitment to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees through government sponsorship by the end of 2016, with accompanying measures to ensure speedy processing.  We urged that there also be an increase in the levels of private sponsorship of Syrian refugees.  We were disappointed that government measures announced in January 2015 were far below that level.  Those numbers must be immediately boosted.

    Given the reports that have surfaced revealing that Aylan Kurdi and his family had applied for resettlement to Canada through the assistance and sponsorship of his aunt, a Canadian citizen, and that the application was unsuccessful for reasons that are not yet clear; it is of obvious crucial importance that measures be taken to ensure fast processing of cases of Syrians with family connections in Canada.


    Amnesty International is calling on the government urgently to take the following steps.


    Lift obstacles to speedy family reunification such that Syrian refugees with relatives in Canada are able to travel immediately to safety in Canada and have their cases processed from within the country.

    Announce a program to immediately resettle a minimum of 10,000 Syrians to Canada through government sponsorship, selected on the basis of need.  Follow that up with further announcements of increased levels of government resettlement over the next 18 months.

    Provide support and encouragement additionally for generous levels of private sponsorship of Syrian refugees for resettlement to Canada by removing barriers such as limits on eligibility for health care and document restrictions in “Group of Five” sponsorships.

    On an urgent basis significantly boost financial, human and logistical resources, in Canada and abroad, to ensure that Syrian refugee cases are processed expeditiously.

    Launch an immediate review of the Aylan Kurdi case to identify any obstacles that stood in the way of approval of his family’s application for resettlement to Canada and institute all possible measures to address those problems.

    Make a clear commitment that increased efforts with respect to Syrian refugees will be additional to, and not at the expense of, ongoing government and private resettlement of refugees from other countries.

    Intensify Canada’s efforts to ensure more effective international action is taken to resolve the conflict and human rights crisis in Syria, including by working towards a comprehensive global arms embargo against Syria and providing increased levels of humanitarian aid.


    It is time to act Prime Minister Harper.  Given the urgency and gravity this requires your leadership.  Canada must accept its share of responsibility and step up its response.   We have the capacity, the experience, the connections, the will and – above all – the responsibility to do so.




    Alex Neve                                     Béatrice Vaugrante
    Secretary General                         Directrice Générale
    Amnesty International Canada     Amnistie internationale Canada francophone
    (English branch)


    cc. Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the New Democratic Party
          Justin Trudeau, Leader of the Liberal Party
          Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party
          Gilles Duceppe, Leader of the Bloc Quebecois