In Amman on Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced the doubling of Canada’s aid to Jordan to $13 million to help assist with the burden of Syrian refugees in the kingdom.
Canada has a proven, if unremarkable, history of sending money to assist people affected by the conflict in Syria.
By February, it had sent $23.5 million to assist with the crisis, with $9.3 million of that going to humanitarian assistance inside Syria, and the remainder to support Syrians seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Ottawa announced additional funding of $25 million at a major international donor conference in Kuwait last January.
As neighbouring countries go, Jordan has borne the brunt of the events in Syria. It hosts over a quarter million registered Syrian refugees, and probably several times that many unregistered refugees. The Zaatari refugee camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border has become the fifth largest city in Jordan by population – over 100,000 refugees are holed up there. UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, says there is a 79 per cent funding gap for its operations in countries with refugee populations.
But Ottawa still won’t recognize the main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition.
Washington, Paris, London, the European Union, Turkey, almost every Arab country and dozens of other governments around the world recognize the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Canada is explicitly not doing so.
“We're prepared to work with them, we're prepared to engage with them, but we're not prepared to recognize them as the sole, legitimate voice, government-in-waiting of the Syrian people,” Mr. Baird told CTV last December.
As part of his tour of the Middle East, Mr. Baird will visit Qatar – one of the fiercest critics of the Assad regime and a chief supplier of arms and cash to both Syrian rebel groups and the country’s political opposition. Sparks may fly.
On Monday Mr. Baird is in Baghdad, where neither he nor Iraqi officials are likely to want to talk about Syria. The Iraqi government has been quietly supportive of Bashar al-Assad’s government, allowing flights from Iran to Damascus fly unhindered over Iraqi airspace. At an Arab League conference in Doha last week Iraq was one of only three Arab countries to vote not to recognize the Syrian opposition as the official representative the people of Syria.
As Campbell Clark reports from Baghdad, economic and diplomatic ties are priority issues for Canada and Iraq. The elephant in the room – war next door in Syria – rolls on.