Canada welcomes Syrian refugees to their new home

As governments in Europe and United States become increas­ingly conservative in refugee reset­tlement programmes, Canadi­an government remains welcoming and supportive.

Syrian refugees are greeted by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) on their arrival from Beirut at the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, last December.


2016/01/22 Issue: 40 Page: 19


The Arab Weekly
Abdulrahman al-Masri



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.


Abdulrahman al-Masri covers politics and news in the Middle East and Syria in particular. He can be followed on Twitter: @AbdulrhmanMasri


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