What’s the holdup on Syrian refugees?

posted on December 22, 2014

By Raja Khouri, Globe and Mail | Link to Article

By Raja Khouri, Globe and Mail | Link to Article

We watch the horrors of the Syrian civil war helplessly. With no end in sight, the world community has abandoned trying to broker a ceasefire, let alone a deal between the combatants. But we – humanity, Canadians – must come to the aid of this calamity’s most vulnerable victims. We must give shelter to those most in need of protection.

The numbers speak for themselves. About 190,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians. More than 10 million Syrians have been displaced, and nearly 11 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in Syria. According to Amnesty International, 3.8 million refugees from Syria have fled to five countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. And according to the United Nations, 378,684 more people in those countries are in need of resettlement in 2015-16.

What has the rest of the world done to help with relocation? Germany and Sweden have done most of the heavy lifting, receiving 96,500 new Syrian asylum applications in the past three years. Everyone else has done little to nothing.

What about Canada? A recently released government document says that as of Nov. 13, 457 Syrian refugees have landed in Canada, out of 1,300 pledged by Jason Kenney as immigration minister in 2013. And despite sincere overtures of concern and promises to act on larger numbers by Mr. Kenney’s successor, Chris Alexander, an official announcement has yet to materialize. At a Geneva conference on Syrian refugees held by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees last week, Canada declined to make any new commitments.

Worse, the government now inexplicably wants to prioritize any Syrian refugees it relocates based on their being from a religious minority, instead of based on need. The UNHCR follows a thorough process to prioritize the most vulnerable, including women and children at risk, survivors of violence or torture, refugees with medical needs or disabilities, and those at risk due to sexual orientation, among other factors. Agency policy requires resettlement programs to be needs-based and non-discriminatory.

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