How Canada is Dealing with the Refugees
by John Trent
A little while ago, Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote to U.S. citizens via Tikkum to encourage them to:
“Please call your Senators to tell them you Welcome Syrian Refugees and urge them to vote “NO” if a bill comes to the Senate for a vote to make it more stringent to accept refugees from Syria and Iraq to the US. Refugees coming to the US are already subject to lengthy, stringent clearance requirements. In the busyness of preparing for the holidays, let us not forget these are people who have lost everything. Imagine being bombed and having no place to go, and one after another country saying “we do not want you.” It is winter, it is cold, and many are sleeping outside, waiting at the borders of several European countries …and we live in the wealthiest country in the world and can afford to take in a significant number of the homeless. And “no,” these refugees do not present a danger to the general public–we already have careful policies in place to ensure that we would not be accepting people who are ISIS operatives intent on hurting us.”
So, for the sake of comparison, what is going on with the neighbours in Canada? During the past 10 years, the Conservative Government of Stephen Harper had gradually cut back the number of refugees accepted by Canada. In the past few years it accepted very few Syrian refugees. They seemed to have some reason for disliking them, because each year Canada takes in more than 200,000 immigrants and refugees. Under intense political pressure during the federal election last month they agreed to take 10,000 Syrians over the next few years. Pointing to little Sweden which is taking in 190,000 Syrian refugees, the opposition parties said the Conservative goals were much too small. The Liberals who have now formed the new federal government said they would aim for 25,000 by the end of 2015.
The Conservatives, sort of like the U.S. Republicans, had increasingly found themselves in a little corner. The vast majority of Canadians want to help refugees, including Syrians, in this hour of their need. Newspaper editorials, radio talk shows, TV programs and social media came out in favour of an intensified program of refugee support. Everyone knows about the destruction of Syria and the four million citizens who have been obliged to flee to camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon which are overwhelmed by the influx. Generally, Canadians want to help. Needless to say there are certainly the nay-sayers who worry about terrorism, unsatisfactory screening processes, dislike for fundamentalist Muslims, and the needs of our own economy and looking after our own poor first. They were answered by those who recalled that Canada was built by immigrants and that it had once welcomed 70,000 Vietnamese boat-people (communists!) in just a couple of years.
On November 25, the Liberal Government announced their actual plan for Syrian refugees. By year-end, 10,000 Syrians will be brought in, 8,000 by private sponsorships. Families and associations have been lining up for months to welcome Syrian families. They are required to cover settlement costs of $27,000 for a family of four. In all, the private sponsors will be covering some 40 per cent of first year costs for the Syrian refugees. The government will sponsor another 15,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February 2016 – and another 10,000 after that.
The federal Government will arrange charter and military flights to bring in 900 refugees per week. Health and security screening will be done in the Middle East before they even get on the planes, by the 500 officials who have been mobilized and by the UNHCR. Screenings will be repeated as needed in Canada. The refugees will be flown to Montreal and Toronto from which they will be spread out evenly across the country to the more than 36 communities which have requested them. In part for security reasons, for government-sponsored refugees, the focus will be on women and children and families.
At this point, the government is budgeting $678 million for the Syrian program over the next six years, over and above the regular budgeting for immigration and on-going refugee resettlement. Of this, there will be $21 million for identification, $46 million for processing, $121 million for transportation, $77 million for welcoming in Canada, $377 million for settlement and integration, and $36 million for support of reception groups and associations. Included are provisions for public health and safety including psychological assistance for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and for language training. As the Minister of Immigration said, “To do it right we must give a welcome that includes not just a smile but a roof over their head and everything else that they need… This is a national project that will involve all Canadians.” The interim federal health program provides not just basic insured health services but also dental and prescription drug coverage. Generally speaking, refugees to Canada receive about the same level of financial support as is available to other Canadians on welfare. Those Syrians accepted will be admitted to Canada as permanent residents.
In an editorial, the Ottawa Citizen concluded, “Now, the Liberals are in a position to increase this country’s resettlement capacity, quickly and generously… Clearly our capacity is inadequate not only to the need, but also to our desire to help. There is a gap between our compassion and our capacity… This is not a one-time crisis, but an on-going moral duty.”
John Trent is a Senior Fellow in the Centre on Governance of the University of Ottawa