UNHCR counting on Canada to increase commitment to Syrian refugees | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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UNHCR counting on Canada to increase commitment to Syrian refugees

A young Syrian boy plays as Greeks walk inside a metro station during the 12th day of a refugee hunger strike at central Syntagma square, in Athens, on Thursday, Dec. 4. 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Petros Giannakouris
December 09, 2014 - 2:02 PM

OTTAWA - A global call for help resettling more than 100,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years must be answered in part by Canada, the United Nations refugee agency representative in Ottawa says.

The latest appeal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees represents an opportunity, Furio De Angelis said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"Canada is a very important country to the UNHCR not only for the support it gives to refugee programs but also for the leadership that it provides in terms of international standards of global protection," De Angelis said.

"This is another occasion for countries who have a leading role in global refugee protection to really show their strength."

The UNHCR made a special pitch at meetings in Geneva on Tuesday for countries to help resettle more than 100,000 refugees from the Syrian civil war by 2016.

Though 25 countries made pledges to open more spaces, Canada was not among them.

"We will make announcements about further commitments at a future date," said Kevin Menard, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.

While Canada has been accepting refugees from the Syrian crisis since it began in 2011, the UNHCR did not make a direct request for assistance in resettlement until 2013.

That year, the agency put out a global call for countries to take in 30,000 of the most vulnerable refugees living in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

Canada agreed to take 1,300 people by the end of this year; private sponsorship groups were allotted 1,100 spots and the government agreed to directly resettle the rest.

While the government's promise to settle 200 people has been met and exceeded, only 163 people being sponsored by private groups had made it to Canada as of the middle of November.

On Tuesday, the government released updated numbers, saying 703 refugees have come to Canada since January 1, 2014.

The trickle of arrivals — and the absence of a new commitment — are a failure on the part of the minister, said the NDP critic for multiculturalism Andrew Cash.

"In the face of mounting pleas in the international community for more help from our government, we're just left to really wonder whether this government has a serious commitment to playing its part and doing its fair share," he said in an interview.

"If Canada is not going to do that, if we're not showing an example, then how can we be a leader in the world in terms of peace and justice."

The plight of Syrian refugees has been a daily issue at question period for weeks and an ongoing source of frustration for the Syrian Canadian community who says the process is so cumbersome that some would-be sponsors are just walking away.

De Angelis wouldn't comment directly on the delays.

"The resettlement program is a very complex exercise which includes a lot of different processing; it's labour intensive, it's logistically challenging," he said.

"There is experience in Canada . . . the results will come."

It's estimated that 3.8 million people have been turned into refugees by the civil war raging in Syria since 2011.

Not all want or need to be resettle. The UN estimates about 10 per cent need to move to another country. The agency prioritizes who it considers the most vulnerable — among them women, children and survivors of torture — and asks countries to take them in.

In February, the UNHCR had said it hoped to resettle 130,000 people by the end of 2016.

So far, around 62,000 spots for refugees have been opened up worldwide, with Germany and Sweden taking in the highest numbers of people.

Tuesday's new commitments to bring that number up to 100,000 are at least a good step forward, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a press release Tuesday.

"Syria has become the defining humanitarian challenge of our times, and it's important that the kind of offers of help that we've seen today keep coming in," he said.

"Providing refuge for vulnerable people fleeing war is of life-saving importance for the individuals affected, but it's also an important show of solidarity with countries of the region that are hosting millions of Syrians."

Canada is not alone in the challenge of meeting commitments. Of 4,000 Syrians who have applied to go to the United Kingdom under a resettlement program there, only about 25 have actually arrived, according to British media reports.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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