Canada welcomes Syrian refugees to their new home
Ottawa - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was joined by several other officials in greeting Syrian refugees upon their arrival in Toronto and Montreal in December. Trudeau welcomed individuals and families to their new home, where they have been resettled as part of a plan to relocate 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada.
As governments in Europe and the United States become increasingly conservative in refugee resettlement programmes, the Canadian government remains welcoming and supportive.
“The nature of this [Canadian] society is very welcoming… It’s a multicultural society,” said Fadi Hayek, a native of Aleppo, Syria, who arrived with his family in Ottawa as government-assisted refugees on November 7th. “We don’t even feel like refugees.”
After the Liberal Party won the October 2015 elections, Trudeau assembled a task force to implement its campaign promise to help 25,000 Syrian refugees relocate to Canada by the end of 2015. Trudeau’s plan for Syrian refugee resettlement programmes received widespread support from the public.
The government is using Canadian aeroplanes for direct flights for Syrian refugees and has designated terminals at Toronto Pearson International Airport and Montreal Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport to process Syrian refugees for permanent residence, health coverage and social insurance numbers upon arrival.
“[We] were refugees on the aeroplane. Once we arrived, we are Canadians,” said Hayek.
“There is an environment for us to be productive and to contribute to the community,” he added. “This makes us feel that we belong.”
Local governments across Canada have initiated settlement projects that aim to assist refugees at their final destinations. These initiatives offer support with housing, language training and social services.
Though the resettlement process is moving steadily, the federal government missed its initial deadline and modified the plan multiple times. Still, the government remains firm in its commitment. As of January 13th, 10,299 Syrians had arrived in Canada since November 4th, with more arriving each day.
James Milner, an expert on refugee policy and an associate professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, said Canada should consider measures to collaborate with refugee-hosting countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon. He said those steps would benefit Syrian refugees in the region on issues such as the right to work.
Milner said Canada would be well advised to do more than resettle refugees, provide aid and move on from the issue of refugee crisis. “If Canada really wants to be fully engaged as part of the global refugee regime, it then becomes the question of how do you build from the contributions you’ve made, to be part of the conversation of what a more comprehensive solution would look like,” he added.
The Canadian government is focused on contributing humanitarian aid to the region. It announced in November an additional $100 million contribution to support UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) efforts to help Syrians. Since the start of the conflict in Syria, the government said that Canada has provided nearly $1 billion in aid.
In addition to government-sponsored refugee programmes, Canadian citizens and permanent residents have the right to sponsor refugees privately at their own expense. Many groups have formed to support Syrian families’ and individuals’ efforts to move to Canada.
Since the government made the commitment to resettle more Syrian refugees, private sponsorship groups have seen a dramatic improvement in application processing times. In some cases, private sponsorship applications have been processed in three months, compared with an average processing time of one year in previous years.
Amer Adas, a Syrian-Canadian activist, is working on applications to privately sponsor his two uncles and their families, who are refugees in Turkey.
“If we still had the previous Conservative government, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to help refugees in the same way that we are doing it now,” he said. “We would probably be hearing all of this fearmongering about refugees and the negative effects they would bring to Canada.”
While the Liberals remain firm on reaching the goal of welcoming 25,000 refugees by the end of February, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum said that Canada hopes to take in upward of 50,000 Syrians by the end of 2016.
“My family and I are grateful that the government has demonstrated that it will continue with its efforts in bringing refugees to Canada, despite the incidents that occurred worldwide,” Adas said.