Of the millions leaving Syria to flee from an Islamic State insurgency and a four-year-long civil war, only 10 per cent of refugees are attempting the dangerous journey to Europe, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates. Most end up in countries close to Syria such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
Trish McAlaster, Rick Cash and Stephanie Chambers/The Globe and Mail / Sources: UNHCR, HIU.State.Gov
Canadian political party leaders are proposing to bring more Syrian refugees to Canada, but their proposed target numbers are only in the tens of thousands.
- Conservatives: The Conservative government began opening spaces for Syrian refugees in 2013, with the goal of taking in 11,300 refugees by the end of 2018. Of those, only about 2,500 had arrived by early September. In August, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper promised to bring in an additional 10,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees over four years if re-elected.
- NDP: The New Democrats have committed to bringing 46,000 Syrian refugees to Canada over four years if elected. However, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has come under pressure from within his own party to double that number.
- Liberals: Leader Justin Trudeau has pledged that, if the Liberals are elected, they would resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by Jan. 1.
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Initially, Canada's contribution to the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State was limited to a six-month mission of air strikes in Iraq. But in March, the government moved to extend the mission by a year and to reach into Syria as well. The NDP and Liberal leaders opposed the extension.
But Canada's air mission only seldom hit Syrian targets over the summer; three months after the mission was extended, only three attacks on Syrian soil had been reported. (In August, the Department of National Defence stopped holding public briefings on the combat mission for the duration of the election campaign.)
- NDP: Mr. Mulcair has long opposed the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria and says an NDP government would withdraw Canadian troops from it immediately. “Canada is free, we have our own foreign policy … and we will put an end to Canada’s participation in the combat mission in Iraq and in Syria,” he said on Sept. 10.
- Conservatives: Mr. Harper has said the Iraq and Syria mission is helping to combat the refugee crisis at its source, and the Conservative platform accuses the opposition of wanting to “cut and run” in the conflict.
- Liberals: The Liberals would pull Canada out of the combat mission in Iraq, focusing instead on the training of local forces and humanitarian support.
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Grisly images of Alan Kurdi – a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned, along with his mother and brother, when a rubber dinghy carrying the Kurdi family capsized off the Turkish coast – galvanized Canadians to action in early September.
Alan's uncle, Mohammad, had applied for refugee status in Canada, but Citizenship and Immigration Canada rejected the application because it didn't meet the rules for proof of refugee status. No application was made for Alan's father, Abdullah, but his sister Tima, who lives in British Columbia, says she intended to sponsor Mohammad and then apply to sponsor Abdullah and his family. In an interview with German media, Abdullah blamed Canadian authorities for the circumstances leading to his wife and children's deaths.
Under its immigration rules at the time, Canada needed individual refugee claims to be approved by another country or by a UN agency. But in the case of Mohammad Kurdi, the UNHCR wouldn't give its approval unless Canada agreed first to accept those claims. The Kurdis' tragedy renewed criticism of the red tape involved in bringing refugees to Canada, a topic that has come up on the election campaign trail as well.
Weeks after the Kurdis' story came to light, The Globe revealed that the Prime Minister's Office directly intervened this spring to stop processing one of the most vulnerable classes of Syrian refugees, and asked Citizenship and Immigration for some refugees' files so they could be vetted personally. This meant some refugee families had to wait longer to find settlements in Canada. Mr. Harper later confirmed the PMO's involvement, but said the PMO officials made no decisions about which individuals would get into Canada.
- Conservatives: On Sept. 20, the Conservative government announced that it would scrap the requirement of UNHCR proof for refugee applicants and would fast-track the applications of 10,000 refugees, at a cost of $25-million.
- Liberals: A Liberal government would directly sponsor Syrian refugees to help meet their pledge of 25,000 refugees by the new year, Mr. Trudeau says.
- NDP: Mr. Mulcair has pledged to immediately name a commissioner who would be dispatched to the Middle East to speed up the processing of refugees.
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Bringing refugees to Canada is expensive, but church groups, non-governmental organizations and corporate donations are helping to ease the burden for Syrians wishing to live here. In Edmonton, Mennonite and Muslim community groups have co-operated to reunite refugees living in Jordan, Turkey and Egypt with their relatives. Canadian companies, including the Toronto-Dominion Bank and Air Canada, stepped up humanitarian donations after the Kurdi picture renewed attention on the crisis.
On the campaign trail, the dollars-and-cents side of the refugee crisis has been under close scrutiny.
- Conservatives: The Harper government announced on Sept. 12 that it would match eligible donations – to a maximum of $100-million – made by Canadians from Sept. 12 to Dec. 31 to registered charities working to help Syrian refugees.
- NDP: The party platform estimates that additional measures to aid Syrian refugees would cost $64-million a year over four years.
- Liberals: The party estimates that its plan to resettle Syrian refugees faster will cost $100-million in this fiscal year, and $250-million overall. Mr. Trudeau has also encouraged Canadians to make donations to the UNHCR.