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  • September 12th, 2015

Responding to the Syrian Refugee Crisis: Part One

regufee-immigration department

Image credit: Sakis Mitrolidis, AFP, Getty Images , Ottawa Citizen

by Peggy Mason, President of the Rideau Institute

On September 8th a group of Canadians who have worked internationally on humanitarian, development, peacekeeping and peacebuilding issues, many of us under the auspices of the [now defunct] Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, sent a letter to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander, with copies to the four main Opposition parties, registering concern over the “minimal response” by the Harper government to the Syrian refugee crisis and urging “swift, uncluttered, effective and compassionate action”.

Through the Ceasefire.ca and Rideau Institute.ca blogs, we intend to share with you, in the order they are received, the formal responses to our letter from each of the main parties, as well as to provide links to background information and other relevant developments.

While the Liberals, NDP and Green Parties have all addressed this issue on the campaign trail, the first to respond in writing to our letter, by an email dated September llth, was the New Democratic Party. Here is that email in its entirety:

NDP: Our plan to help Syrian refugees

September 11th, 2015.

Thank you for your recent email regarding the Syrian refugee crisis. This is worst refugee crisis the world has seen since the Second World War—over 12 million Syrians are now displaced. But Stephen Harper still refuses to show any moral leadership and put together a plan to welcome more refugees.

New Democrats know that we need to do what we can to help—Canadians don’t want to stand by and watch as this crisis continues. Premiers, mayors, faith communities and businesses across the country have committed to welcoming more refugees.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur has called for the West to resettle one million Syrian refugees over the next five years—that would make Canada’s share nine-thousand Syrian refugees per year. Canada must act now to assist with this ambitious and very necessary agenda.

New Democrats know that we must do our part. Here’s our plan to make things better:

– An NDP government will bring ten thousand government-sponsored Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of this year.

– We’ll respond to the UN Special Rapporteur’s request with a plan to settle nine thousand refugees each year, for the next four years.

– We’ll also fast-track private sponsorships, with no cap, to bring as many people to Canada as possible.

– We’d appoint a Syrian Refugee Coordinator and put them in charge of a multi-departmental effort to safely and efficiently get Syrian refugees out of harm’s way.

– We’d increase the presence of Canada’s diplomatic and immigration officials in the region to accelerate the processing of refugees.

– We’ll also work with Turkey and other affected countries to remove bureaucratic obstacles to resettlement and end any discrimination by treating all refugees equally.

What’s more, NDP Leader, Tom Mulcair has called on the Canadian Government to match donations made to registered Canadian charities involved in Syrian refugee relief efforts.

Again, thank you for contacting us. Please be assured that an NDP government will restore Canada’s reputation as a compassionate, respected player on the world stage—one that steps up to help those in need.


Conservative Government Response

For the announcement today (Saturday) by the Minister of International Development on new measures to assist refugees, see their press release here and analysis by the Toronto Star highlighting outstanding issues in “Ottawa pledges to match Canadians’ donations to Syrian relief fund”, (Toronto Star 12 September, 2015).

For earlier damning evidence of Conservative government inaction, see the story by Lee Berthiaume in Post Media outlets entitled: “$350 million for refugees and immigration returned to government, unspent” (Ottawa Citizen, 10 September 2015).

 Further Background

For an expert discussion of refugees, including security screening see the CBC Current interview by Ana Mara Tremonti featuring Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, Gar Pardy, former director general of the consular affairs bureau in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Martin Collacott, former Canadian ambassador to Syria and Lebanon. (“Governments weigh security with speed to settle Syrian refugees”, CBC Radio: The Current, 10 September 2015).

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