Canada ‘can move mountains’ to save refugees

Surrey top destination for trickle of Syrian refugees arriving in B.C. so far, advocates urge reform to increase flow

Chris Friesen chairs the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance.

B.C. took in just 72 government-assisted refugees from Syria over the past two and a half years – more than half of them coming to Surrey – and advocates say there’s room for so many more.

They compare Canada’s response to the current refugee crisis, in which Ottawa has pledged to take 10,000 Syrians spread out over three years, to how the country stepped up to accept fleeing Vietnamese boat people.

In 1980, Canada welcomed more than 19,200 southeast Asian refugees and nearly 60,000 more were sponsored over two years by churches and other groups.

“If there is political will, we can move mountains,” said Chris Friesen, chair of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance. “So far, we haven’t seen that under the Harper government. We have been far more generous in the past than we have in recent times.”

The current trickle of arriving government-assisted Syrians, perhaps a dozen a year into Surrey, is a drop in the bucket of the city’s rapidly growing population, which climbs by about 1,000 new residents a month.

The number of additional church-sponsored Syrian refugees is uncertain, but is likely tiny, according to Friesen, who is also director of settlement services for the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

Most of the 72 Syrians have come to B.C. from Lebanon, but others have arrived via Turkey and Malaysia, he said, and they come from a range of ethnic backgrounds from Kurds to Sunni Muslims.

“Surrey, Burnaby and New West are the primary destinations at the moment, largely due to the ability to find affordable housing,” Friesen said.

Friesen said he and other immigrant advocates want Ottawa to enact an emergency refugee plan that was drawn up as a contingency in 2002 following the Kosovo refugee crisis to swiftly bring in a significant number of additional refugees, in consultation with the UN.

In addition, he says the government can and should issue minister’s permits to immediately reunify extended family members of Syrians already in Canada.

That provision allows those family members who are in danger to come here in as little as 72 hours, leaving some aspects of refugee application processing, such as medical exams and clearances, to be conducted in Canada.

“The minister has a number of tools at his discretion which currently have not been used and given the current crisis should immediately be initiated.”

As for the slow pace of meeting Canada’s commitment to take in Syrians, Friesen said that’s due to the government’s insistence most be sponsored by the faith community, rather than being government-assisted.

“They should have committed to 10,000 government-assisted refugees and then allow church communities to undertake additional sponsorship,” Friesen said.

Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland believes there are plenty of churches and other groups and individuals eligible and willing to sponsor more refugees, but Ottawa has arbitrarily imposed a quota that creates a slow bottleneck for processing sponsored applications.

“The problem is the immigration minister is processing about seven or eight (Syrian) cases a day,” Kurland said, arguing that could be changed at the stroke of a pen as there’s no lack of staff or resources. “If the minister says instead of processing about eight cases a day, process 20 or 25, it’s an immediate solution.”

As it sits, he said, a flawlessly completed new Syrian refugee application filed now faces a 42-month processing wait.

“The only thing blocking the entry to Canada is the minister’s decision on the quota.”

He said accelerating approval of sponsored refugees would come at no cost to the government because sponsor groups are volunteering to pay.

“They are ponying up $50,000 cash to cover the expenses for the most important first year in Canada – accommodation, food, you name it,” he said.

“Because Canada allows these sponsorship groups – and it’s the only country doing it – it’s the people who want refugees here paying the bill, not the taxpayer. So what’s the problem? For me it’s a no-brainer.”

 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

A groundswell of public demand to aid refugees has followed the tragic drowning of two young Syrian boys and their mother, whose sister in Coquitlam wanted to bring them all to B.C.

“People want to do something,” said Chris Friesen of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

“Many are looking into how to sponsor a refugee.”

He suggests Lower Mainland residents consider volunteering with one of the agencies that assist refugees.

“We are always looking for longer term families to be matched with refugee families to provide them with additional support services.”

Other avenues for making a difference include donating to charities assisting refugees overseas or the UN Refugee Agency.

 

NEW REFUGEES IN B.C.

(Government-assisted refugee arrivals in B.C. in the first half of 2015)

Individuals: 199(110 adults, 16 teens, 46 children under 13, and six seniors age 65 and up)

Top source countries:Iraq – 59Iran – 51Syria – 32Myanmar – 11Burundi – 8

Top destination cities:Surrey – 84 (53 %)Burnaby – 31 (19 %)Coquitlam – 20 (13 %)New Westminster – 16 (10 %)Vancouver – 8 (5 %)

Syrian Refugee Crisis – What Can I Do?

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey wrestler Jason Bains receives four-year suspension for using banned substance

Queen Elizabeth Secondary grad tests positive for steroid Turinabol, silver national medal removed

UPDATED: COVID-19 outbreak declared at Peace Arch Hospital

Provincial health officer says outbreak is in the facility’s rehab unit

COVID-19 exposures reported at four more Surrey schools

Fraser Health has created a new webpage listing COVID-19 cases in schools

Surrey’s ‘Sandwich Nazi’ is closing his deli doors after one final weekend

Customer launched petition to urge Salam Kahil to remain open

‘Ukrainian soul food’ fundraiser returns to Surrey hall, with a twist

COVID-19 put a stop to church group’s monthly event, but it’s back on Sept. 25

Record-breaking 165 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in B.C. in 24-hour period

Fifty-seven people are in hospital battling the novel coronavirus

Report raises questions about COVID outbreak that killed 25 seniors at Langley Lodge

CEO defends leaked document that’s igniting queries about BC’s most deadly COVID outbreak

PHOTO: RCMP escort beaver across busy Chilliwack road

Motorists had to exercise patience as the slow-moving creature crossed several lanes of traffic

March to protect old growth, stop industrial logging coming to B.C. Legislature

Organizers say they want to give frontline communities a bigger say in nearby logging

B.C. releases details of $1.5B economic recovery plan, $660M in business tax incentives

Economic plan includes support for employers, as well as training for workers

‘Not criminally responsible’ hearing slated for man convicted of Abbotsford school stabbing

Gabriel Klein was found guilty in March of killing Letisha Reimer, 13, in 2016

Man arrested in New Westminster pier park fire

Investigators don’t believe the public are at further risk and are not looking for any other suspects

Most Read