The first batch of Syrian refugees under the new Liberal government is beginning to land on Canada this week at the earliest and by Christmas time at the latest, although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to bring all 25,000 refugees from Syria by the end of this year had to be moved back to next year.
The world is watching whether this ambitious experiment in receiving thousands of Syrian refugees over a short period will succeed and whether this “Canadian model” is worth emulating. Especially diplomats of France and other European countries being flooded by Syrian and other Middle Eastern and African refugees as well as the United States are all keeping close watch.
There were criticisms of the campaign pledge made by Liberal Party leader Trudeau to bring to Canada 25,000 Syrian refugees by this year’s end as being too hasty to make right preparations and do screenings to receive so many refugees in less than two months after the new government’s inauguration. The government is now trying to expedite the process while it postponed the deadline to 2016, without changing the number of refugees to be invited.
According to changes announced on November 24, 15,000 of the pledged 25,000 government-sponsored refugees will arrive in Canada by the end of February, instead of the end of this month, along with 10,000 refugees sponsored by private groups – non-governmental organizations and individuals, including some of Syrian-Canadian communities and relatives. The other 10,000 will be received in Canada by the end of 2016.
The biggest reason for the delay needed was security – although the postponement gave the breathing space to domestic organizations, including the Red Cross in Canada, to make preparations to receive the refugees, such as housing. Because Prime Minister Trudeau stood firm and said there is no change to his Syrian refugee promise, even after it was learned that one of the suspects in the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people was a Syrian refugee who had sneaked in France, the Ottawa government can never be too sure about their countermeasures to prevent potential terrorists from slipping in the refugees to enter Canada.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) is speeding up to prepare a list of 11,000 refugees who meet the Canadian criteria out of the 633,000 Syrian refugees registered in Jordan, and Canadian officials will screen them on the basis of the UNHCR list of applicants. The Canadian security officials then interview the each of the applicants on the shortened list to make sure they are free of terrorist/security problems as well as contagious diseases. In Turkey, the Canadian officials are doing same screenings on the basis of the list prepared by the Turkish government. The new Canadian government has sent 500 officials to Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon since its inauguration in early November to speed up the screening.
In the screening, priority is being given to families with children, and especially those needing medical treatment, women who have suffered sexual attacks or other women at risk, and people in the so-called LGBT sexual minority, UNHCR prioritize. There are objections to this priority order among Canadians, and the Globe and Mail said in its editorial (Nov. 24), “Some of those additional refugees (arriving in Canada next year or later) should be single, heterosexual men …. The government should let it be known that, in the long run, all are welcome here.”
The Trudeau government has branded the resettlement of thousands of Syrian refugees as a “national project that will involve all Canadians” and is hoping that it will ease the four-year-old “refugee crisis” unfolding in the Middle East and in Europe as a result of chaos in Syria and that a success of the undertaking will encourage other countries to take more refugees as Canada does.
The government will defray all costs for bringing the refugees, not only government-assisted refugees, but those privately sponsored by NGOs and individuals, by commercial airlines, and also cover the costs for resettling the 25,000 government-sponsored refugees, including housing and income assistance. The total amount will come to between 564 million and 678 million Canadian dollars over six years, with most of them concentrating in the first two years.
To me, it is moving to know that NGOs and individual Canadians, including people in the Syrian Canadian communities and refugees’ relatives, are willing to cover the costs to hold refugees – some C$12,600 for one refugee and C$27,000 for a family of four for the first year only. And according to the Canadian government, there are thousands of more applications coming from NGOs and individuals to receive refugees following the government’s announcement of the project – a national display of generosity, responsibility and humanitarian solidarity.
Those who passed the screening will be admitted immediately into Canada as permanent residents.
As refugee arrivals are being expected by Christmas, at the earliest, provincial premiers and mayors are asking the federal government to ensure that Syrian refugees will settle initially all over the country, instead of congregating in Canada’s biggest cities. There are growing concerns that a large majority of the government-sponsored refugees will be drawn to cities such as Montreal and Toronto, where thousands of privately sponsored refugees are heading in coming weeks to join large, existing communities of Syrian Canadians. (Globe and Mail, Nov. 30)
Around 60% of Canada’s Syrians live in Quebec, centering in Montreal, as many as 50,000 people, by the estimates of members of the community. First migrants arrived in the province in the late 1800s from what was then the Ottoman Empire. Canada’s most geographically concentrated Syrian neighborhood is in Mississauga, which makes part of Greater Toronto.
So Atlantic provinces and cities are asking for more evenly distribution of Syrian refugees so as to cope with their demographic and economic problems – declining population and workforce as well consumers. Harifax Mayor Mike Savage has said to the Canadian national daily (Nov. 30), “It ties in with the needs of Nova Scotia for immigrants to come to the province, so we think there can be not only a humanitarian and compassionate side to this, but also be very good for our economy.” It is also moving to hear that those provinces and smaller cities want to play some roles in receiving Syrian refugees, as those big cities do.
Canada has already admitted 102 Syrian refugees – outside the 25,000 Syrian refugee project – since the start of the new government on November 4. The country has received more than 3,000 Syrian refugees since 2013.
The number of Syrian refugees Canada is admitting in coming months is already exceeding the figures Prime Minister Trudeau has promised by 10,000 – 25,000 government-sponsored refugees and 10,000 privately sponsored refugees by the end of 2016, but according to Immigration Minister John McCallum, 15,000 countries are arriving in Canada by the end of next year, making the total figures 50,000. This would be the largest since 1979-1980 when 60,000 Indochinese “boat people” found a new home in Canada. (Globe and Mail, Dec. 1). In 2014, Canada took more than 12,000 refugees.
The federal government is cautiously moving to promote the “national project” not to raise antipathy and grudges on the part of ordinary Canadian citizens, especially those in welfare, by pushing the refugee resettlement program too hastily or giving the impression that refugees are treated too generously – which could threaten sense of national unity and solidarity. So far the project is receiving a wide support by Canadians.
By Yoshikazu Ishizuka, TOCS senior consultant