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We cannot turn away

Welcoming Syrian refugees to Canada is a marathon, not a sprint

By Dennis Gruending

It's heartening to see Canadians rallying to welcome Syrian refugees. But before we congratulate ourselves too heartily, we should acknowledge that our contributions are modest and that the need is great. For one thing, the recently elected Liberals promised to resettle 25,000 Syrians as government sponsored refugees by Dec. 31. Yet Immigration Minister John McCallum now says that the government cannot meet that deadline, moving it back to March 1.

Of course, that's sensible, only McCallum introduced a sleight of hand in his announcement. That's because his party promised to provide for 25,000 government-sponsored refugees, but the revised plan calls for Ottawa to sponsor 15,000 and rely on private sponsorships for the remaining 10,000. McCallum has now promised that the government will resettle another 10,000 Syrians by the end of 2016.

Private sponsors, including faith groups, appear ready to do their share. Frequently, I attend an Ottawa church that recently decided to sponsor related families involving nine Syrians. They are relatives of a family sponsored several years ago, and their experience was a good one.

Still, the recent attacks in Beirut, Paris and Mali have created some fear and uncertainty regarding Syrian and other refugees in Canada. Those attacks, however, were carried out by homegrown terrorists for the most part, and not refugees. What’s more, the Canadian government will accept only those Syrians already in refugee camps and who have been vetted by both the United Nations and Canadian officials. In fact, Canada will set a priority, accepting women, children and families while refusing to consider most single men as government-sponsored refugees.  

Meanwhile, millions of Syrians have been driven from their homes by armed conflict. The United Nations says that 7 million have been internally displaced. Another four million who fled the country have become convention refugees, while many others remain undocumented. Most of these people live in neighbouring countries, which can ill afford to support them: 1.5 million in Lebanon — about one refugee for every four Lebanese; 1.4 million in Jordan; and 1.9 million in Turkey. 

Countries, such as Canada, must resettle Syrian refugees, but that's only part of the solution. There's an urgent need for humanitarian assistance allowing people to remain in host countries, such as Lebanon, until they can go back home. The United Nations Food Program also needs more support. The program has been forced to limit rations and shut down entirely in some areas because it lacks money for food. Also, the world’s governments must step up their humanitarian assistance while individuals must donate more to organizations, such as the Humanitarian Coalition, the Mennonite Central Committee and the Red Cross — all credible organizations involved on the ground. 

Ultimately, however, the solution must be a political and diplomatic one, resulting in the end of the civil war in Syria. We simply cannot turn away. As a resettlement coordinator for a Canadian NGO recently said, this is a marathon, and not a sprint. 

Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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