Canada offers refuge, with conditions

Fewer refugees and security checks for Canadian sponsors.

Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. - MSTYSLAV CHERNOV
Mstyslav Chernov
Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station.

It turns out Ottawa’s plan to resettle 25,000 Syrians by December 31 was a lofty goal. A little too lofty.

The Trudeau government announced recently about 10,000 Syrians would be brought to Canada by the end of the year. Another 15,000 are to arrive at the end of February.

The vast majority of Syrian men, women and children won’t be moving to Nova Scotia this winter. But for the hundreds of refugees that probably will arrive,  personal safety is a two-way street.

Not only are displaced Syrians destined for Nova Scotia vetted by the United Nations and Canadian officials in refugee regions overseas, but a public information session in metro has heard that all potential private sponsors here in Canada must be screened, too.  

Emilie Coyle, of the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, told a gathering in Dartmouth last week that individual sponsors and all members of group sponsors must undergo criminal-background and child-abuse registry checks.

The lunch-hour session was held for those interested in providing financial and other support for Syrian refuge-seekers for one year following their arrival in Nova Scotia. Of the 10,000 refugees brought in before the end of the year, 8,000 are expected to be privately sponsored.

Canada’s resettlement program is not open to all Syrians hoping to move here. According to the Ottawa Citizen, single men will only be allowed to come to this country if they’re accompanied by parents, as part of a family unit or have self-identified as LGBTQI.

Due to the Islamic state terrorist attacks in Paris, some politicians, including Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, want the new Liberal government to suspend its crisis-response plan, or slow the process down. Wall has cited security screening and resettlement issues as concerns.

Coyle said proper screening involving the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Canadian government officials takes place in refugee camps prior to the Syrians’ departure.

“There’s a lot of misleading information out there,” said Coyle, about media reports on security screening and the “negativity” expressed by some Canadians with this country’s response to the humanitarian crisis.   

Attendees at the information session wondered about the spectre of xenophobia that risks looming over communities hosting Syrian families and couples, saying recent news stories have included comments and concerns reflecting intolerance.

Coyle, who’s been sponsoring refugees herself, acknowledged bigotry can be an issue. She said refugee supporters could help counter that by making sure local residents are well informed. “You just give the right information,” Coyle told the meeting.

In Nova Scotia, the government is using its toll-free, 211 phone line to allow people to offer such assistance as lodging, food and clothing to the Syrians looking for a safe haven in this province.

In Halifax this week, regional council approved a municipal staff recommendation that city hall should support local resettlement efforts in order to assist Syrian newcomers and help them integrate into the community. Such support “can be implemented within the existing 2015-2016 budgets,” city staff said.

Mayor Mike Savage, co-chair of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ task force on Syrian refugee resettlement, has said the Halifax region needs to be ready to welcome those looking to start life anew on our shores.

According to the UN, more than 4.2 million Syrians have left their war-torn homeland since civil war broke out in 2011. The Canadian government estimates the resettlement program will cost up to $678 million over six years.

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