“Prime Minister Designate Justin Trudeau’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis by resettling 25,000 additional government assisted refugees to Canada is to be applauded but more time is needed to adequately settle and support these additional refugees,” says Chris Friesen, Chair, The Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance- Alliance canadienne du secteur de l’établissement des immigrants (CISSA-ACSEI). “Let us keep to the UNHCR appeal and time frame for additional resettlement spaces spread over 2015 and 2016.”
CISSA-ACSEI member agencies support the need for additional 25,000 government assisted refugees in response to the Syrian refugee crisis in addition to private or community sponsorship initiatives. But we need more time to put in place necessary program infrastructure, enhancements of system capacity, and addressing current challenges in order to adequately support this proposed large refugee relocation movement to Canada. We urge the Prime Minister Designate Justin Trudeau to consider:
- Extending the time frame of resettling 25,000 Syrian government assisted refugees to the end of Dec 2016. This is in line with the last special appeal for resettlement spaces made by the UNHCR High Commissioner Guterres who in February 2014 asked resettlement states including Canada for an additional 100,000 resettlement spaces over a two year period – 2015 and 2016;
- Expanding the governments’ definition for government assisted refugee families to include extended family members including grandparents, uncle, aunts, nephews and nieces and expedite all outstanding extended family reunification cases by Dec 31, 2015;
- Allowing Syrians in Canada to reunite with internally displaced family members still in Syria. This would mean offering permanent resettlement directly from Syria to Canada or issuing visitor visas for respite visits to Canada, on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. This would help prevent Syrians with close ties to Canada to avoid making the perilous trip to neighbouring countries or to Europe as the civil war continues;
- Expediting the reunification of Syrian children from refugees who sought asylum in Canada and were approved by the Immigration and Refugee Board;
- Eliminating the issuance of interest bearing transportation loans to government assisted refugees. Refugees having to pay their own one way travel to Canada is not in line with humanitarian immigration objectives;
- Investing additional resources and increasing the capacity to address current service gaps and service demands is needed for all refugees including Syrians such as, for example, settlement related short term trauma counselling support which does not currently exist although it is expected that two thirds (2/3rds) of Syrians will require some form of mental health intervention upon their arrival in Canada. In addition, we currently have existing 6-10+ month wait-lists for adult English language classes in cities where the majority of Syrian refugees would likely be destined in Canada; and,
- Implementing a national housing allowance top up to the existing resettlement income support assistance. Like other working poor Canadians and local residents on provincial income support, it is becoming increasingly difficulty to secure low cost rental housing on current shelter rates.
These considerations would not only address the UNHCR High Commissioner Antonio Guterres special resettlement appeal by Canada accepting 25% of the 100,000 resettlement spaces requested but also support expedited extended family reunification cases as a first priority. Extending the deadline until the end of Dec 2016 would facilitate a more effective settlement and integration process into Canadian society, while ensuring we have the necessary supports in place to properly address this widely supported bold measure.
The promise to bring over more Syrian refugees was in the Liberals’ platform.