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Rohingya women stand atop a hill near the border with Myanmar in September. Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, says there is an urgent need to resettle women. ‘They are vulnerable to violence, to exploitation.’SERGEY PONOMAREV/The New York Times

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will ask Ottawa to consider a special program to bring in more refugees similar to the Syria initiative of two years ago when he meets the Prime Minister on Monday.

But this time, rather than concentrating on one hot spot, UNHCR Filippo Grandi will suggest to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Canada take on an expanded effort to bring in especially vulnerable groups, such as women.

Mr. Grandi was reluctant to get into details about what he will ask the Liberal government on Monday, but he gave some hints in a Friday interview in Montreal, where he was meeting with refugee advocates. He drew a parallel with the special program launched in 2015 to settle more than 40,000 Syrian refugees in Canada.

"Resettlement is so important for the most vulnerable people," Mr. Grandi said. "Canada has a very strong feminist foreign policy; resettlement is so important for women at risk. Often even in the countries where they are refugees they are at risk. They are vulnerable to violence, to exploitation. There is an opportunity to do more."

Mr. Grandi praised Canada as a "very strong" advocate for refugees, but expressed disappointment at the modest growth in targets for refugee resettlement the federal government recently announced.

On Wednesday, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen released Canada's plan to take in 43,000 refugees next year – a modest increase of 3,000 over 2017 targets. The plan states a 2020 target of 48,700. (Mr. Hussen's plan included a larger increase in overall immigration targets.)

"We have to recognize Canada has a substantive resettlement program, but in my job I need champions," Mr. Grandi said. "I need champions who are progressively becoming bigger champions. I hope these are indicative planning figures that can be increased."

In 2016, Canada set a target of 55,800 refugees. The actual number resettled was 46,700, the highest level since 1978.

Some 15,000 asylum-seekers have walked into Canada from the United States this year, sparking some concern about backlogs and abuses of the system. Many of those asylum-seekers were immigrants who were frightened by the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration. Others simply used the United States as a transit point on their way from other countries.

Mr. Grandi praised Ottawa's handling of the situation and urged Canadians to keep the issue in perspective. "This is not going to precipitate chaos in the country; it is being handled," he said. "When you look at it from a global perspective, there were days last year when 15,000 South Sudanese were leaving that country in a single day, and all to poor countries."

Canada's latest refugee plan also increases the quota for privately assisted refugees while freezing levels of government assisted refugees. The 2018 goal for government-backed refugees is frozen at the 2017 level of 7,500. Mr. Grandi said he tells other countries about Canada's "mixed model" because it creates awareness of refugees in communities and helps their integration.

Mr. Grandi spoke to the United Nations Security Council in New York on Thursday, asking rich countries to open their borders to resettle people displaced by war, famine and other disasters. He echoed the message in the first stop of his Canadian visit.

He pointed out that poor countries near conflict zones are often taking hundreds of thousands of refugees while richer countries limit intake. Less than 1 per cent of refugees are resettled in countries like Canada, but Mr. Grandi said it remains an important gesture.

Poorer countries that generally bear the brunt of refugee crises look to isolated, richer countries like Canada to do their part, he said. "It sends a signal to those countries that they are not alone, that responsibility is being shared," Mr. Grandi said.

The United States is planning to cut its intake to 45,000 from the 2017 cap of 110,000 as President Donald Trump insists on more careful screening of all immigrants.

"There's no person more vetted to enter the United States than a refugee resettling," Mr. Grandi said. "Hopefully, once they look at it, we can increase quotas again."

Marie-Claude Bibeau says Ottawa will match private donations made between Aug. 25 and Nov. 28 to charities helping with the Rohingya refugee crisis. The international development minister is urging Canadians to donate generously.

The Canadian Press

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