Solaye Snider, Blog Writer
Last Thursday, two separate leaks to the Globe and Mail and CTV News revealed that the processing of Syrian refugees was halted by the Conservative government for several weeks this spring to complete an additional audit of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-referred refugee files due to security concerns.
The refugees being audited had already been selected and vetted by the UNHCR, but were then stalled before being accepted for resettlement in Canada. This meant that the process was already backed-up when public outcry in August prompted the government to expand their refugee resettlement targets, threatening Canada’s ability to deliver on this and previous promises.
It is unknown exactly when the halt was lifted, but the spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander confirmed that processing did resume after several weeks when no security concerns were found. The processing of refugees through private sponsorships had continued without pause throughout this time.
The leak from the department of Citizenship and Immigration also revealed that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was prioritizing refugee applications from Christians and other religious minorities over those of Shia and Sunni Muslims, who make up close to 90% of the refugees in region. Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper admitted that higher priority was being placed on such religious minorities, but repeatedly asserted the decision was “not exclusionary,” and rather to prioritize the most “vulnerable” groups.
The refugees selected by the UNHCR for government processing are already the most “vulnerable,” as the organization can only refer 1% of those displaced around the world for resettlement in the West.
The Conservative government highlighted issues of national security, claiming that intelligence reports had raised alarm that certain Islamic State fighters were “actively trying to infiltrate the flood of migrants and make their way to Western countries.”
In response, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair accused the Conservative government of forcing the Canadian public to make a false choice between national security, and Canada’s international obligation towards the acceptance of refugees.
The Liberal party has promised to resettle 25 000 refugees by January 1st 2016 if elected. They also propose to withdraw Canada’s military presence in Iraq and focus instead on the training of local forces and other means of humanitarian support. The NDP have pledged to resettle 10,000 refugees by the same time, but 46 000 over the next four years. They oppose the military coalition fighting in Iraq and Syria and would pull out Canadian troops immediately, as well as appoint a commissioner to travel to the region to speed up the processing of refugees.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May has urged Canada to “take on its share of the responsibility in the Syrian refugee crisis.” In a public statement, she echoed her NDP and Liberal counterparts by condemning the Conservative’s inaction on the refugee crisis. She also drew comparisons with Canada’s historical record in dealing with other refugee crises, noting that the process today is far more difficult and expensive than it’s ever been.
Canada’s record in the crisis has been lamentable thus far, with only 308 UN-referred refugees accepted before August of this year, compared to the 1,513 admitted through private sponsorship programs.
The opposition parties have not been the only ones to condemn the Conservative government’s slow response to this major refugee crisis. The UNHCR has also challenged Canada to offer more assistance in light of serious food shortages and deteriorating living conditions faced by Syrian refugees.
On October 19th Canadians are being given the chance to make their voices heard and choose the parties and candidates they believe will lead the way on humanitarian issues and fulfil Canada’s Responsibility to Protect. On October 20th, it will then become our responsibility to hold our leaders to their word.
Let the Canadian Government know that they can do more to help in this refugee crisis. Click here to find out how.