Liberals give priority to Syrian refugees while others have to wait

While the Liberal government is trying to fulfil its pre-election promise of bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of February 2016 by “moving heaven and earth”, it appears that there are approximately 6,500 refugees from other countries who are being forced to wait until the Liberals meet their target of resettling the Syrian refugees.

During a briefing on the resettlement plan in Ottawa on December 16, McCallum announced that the Liberals are increasing capacity for expedited processing of Syrians in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. According to McCallum, in order to screen 10,000 Syrians by December 31 – a target they ultimately missed by about 4,000 refugees – a force of 500 government employees is working around the clock to keep up with the quota of screening 800 people a day (up from an average 600 people a week).

The resources that the Liberals diverted to the Syrian refugees have a direct impact on refugees from other countries who have been stuck in queue for years.

On November 15, 2015, CBC reported that Tom Denton, executive director of the Hospitality House Refugee Ministry in Winnipeg, said that “something has to give” by the government prioritizing 25,000 Syrian refugees over all others. Denton says his organization has heard from Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Central Processing Office in Winnipeg that they are currently giving priority to Syrian applications, followed by Iraqi applications, and only then to the others. Canadian Council for Refugees sent a letter to McCallum urging the government not to forget refugees in other parts of the world.

Guidy Mamann, a prominent Toronto-based immigration lawyer with over 30 years of expertise in immigration law, told CIJnews that thousands of refugees who have been privately sponsored to come to Canada by their families are now being pushed to the back of the line because in a rush to fulfil their election promise, the Liberals did not create any new resources but merely redirected the existing staff from processing the existing refugee claimants in order to to deal with the Syrian applications.

Mamann said that the Syrian refugee program impacts not just other refugees but all categories of immigrants such as skilled workers or those who fall under a family reunification program, because officers who would have otherwise been working on their applications have now been deployed to Lebanon and Jordan to hastily process Syrian refugees in order to meet the new February deadline. This means that existing refugee claimants, sponsored family members and skilled workers will have to wait until the Syrian refugees have been processed.

Also according to Mamann, not enough Syrians are interested in coming to Canada, and certainly far fewer than the 25,000 which Trudeau originally pledged to bring to Canada by December 31. In spite of reducing the number 10,000, they still missed the target and managed to bring only 6,064 since November 4, 2015.

An article in the Globe and Mail titled: “Why some Syrian refugees decline Canada’s resettlement offer” reinforces Mamann’s view. In the article, Syrians who said “no” to Canada’s generous offer of resettlement, cited various reasons for their refusal, ranging from their preference “to be among Arabs like us than to wade into a new and uncertain culture” to “people said the government of Canada would only care for us for one month, and then they would leave us.”

It would appear that Syrians are waiting for the best resettlement offer – in Europe or elsewhere. “That is not a refugee”, says Mamann. “Canadians believed that we are going into a war zone and pick people who are in danger of being persecuted, but we we are not. We have no personnel on the ground, no armed forces and no Embassy. We are not picking up the most vulnerable and persecuted people such as the Yezidis”.

Mamann says Trudeau’s approach to the Syrian refugees was flawed from the start. “First of all, how do you stick to the election promise of bringing 25,000 people in such a short period of time? How do you choose 25,000 out of millions of displaced persons? What is the criteria?”

Mamann also wants Canadians to understand that this is not a refugee rescue program but rather a refugee resettlement program. Syrians who are being airlifted to Canada are not coming from a war zone. They are coming from the relative safety of Jordan and Lebanon and are not in any immediate danger. If they were, they would be rushing to accept Canada’s generous offer, which includes housing, extended health benefits, free furniture, free cell phones, free theatre tickets and much more.

Another important point Mamann made is the Syrians who are coming here were are not a new batch of refugees but rather those who were already selected for resettlement by the previous Harper government and were waiting for their turn to be processed. Trudeau is simply putting them ahead of the line to the dismay of refugees from other countries who are being overshadowed by the massive and relentless publicity campaign by the Liberals and mainstream media. To drum up public support for a program which most critics called unrealistic, irresponsible and rushed, the Liberal government spent $535,000 on nationwide marketing campaign which describes the Canadian way as one of the “open hearts and welcoming communities”. It also launched a campaign using the hashtag #WelcomeRefugees in order to encourage Canadians to donate, volunteer and sponsor Syrian refugees.

On December 2, 2015, published an article about the plight of Eritrean refugees who have been ignored by Canada while all eyes are on Syria. Daniel Tseghay said that the Liberal government’s $1.2 billion plan to expedite Syrian refugees highlights the attention to some refugees while forgetting other international crises. “There obviously is some structure that privileges certain migrants over others and unfortunately, African migrants are at the very bottom of the hierarchy.”

On November 12, 2015, Larry Miller, MP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, published an open letter to the editor in which he slammed the Liberals for a “politically motivated policy based on an irresponsible campaign announcement”. Miller reminded the Liberals that on average, Canada takes in about 7,500 refugees each year or roughly 144 a week. What the Liberal government is proposing would result in approximately 3,570 refugees entering Canada per week for the next seven weeks. This target is causing concern from the Canadian Council for Refugees because the capacity of non-governmental organizations to aid refugees once they enter Canada will be “strained to breaking”.

Miller accused the Liberals for getting caught up in the “buzz” of the election by making promises that are politically motivated but are not practically responsible and questioned McCallum’s announcement that the government will be doing “whatever works” to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada in a span of a few short weeks, in spite of concerns raised by immigration experts that the plan is rushed and could jeopardize a responsible intake of refugees.

Miller also objected to the refugees receiving healthcare that is “above and beyond what Canadians receive”, referring to the Liberals’ promise to restore supplemental health benefits – including dental and vision care – which the Conservative government clawed back in 2012 to put them in line with what is provided to Canadians.

“I am disappointed that the Prime Minister is giving in to political pressure from his flawed campaign announcement rather than developing a responsible plan based on consultation with the military, non-governmental refugee associations, and the government departments involved. Instead he has opted for a politically-based plan developed by 9 cabinet ministers in a back-room in Ottawa” said Miller.

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