Robyn Benson, PSAC

Refugee crisis--doing the right thing

Refugees before and after.jpg

The before and after pictures, above, say it all. Most of us have seen the first one. The anguished father and his family made it to Germany, as it turns out, where they now have a chance to live normal lives in a safe environment.

More than four million Syrians have fled their country; another seven million have been displaced within it, as civil war rages. Germany is prepared to take 800,000 refugees fleeing war and persecution—fully 1% of its population.

In Canada, the equivalent would be 350,000 refugees.

Number of Syrian refugees actually admitted to Canada? 2,374 since January 2014.

Number of Syrian refugees pre-approved for immigration, to be privately sponsored by Canadians? Nine.

Cutbacks at Citizenship and Immigration have already created huge backlogs in the system.

Now, unbelievably, the Harper government is cutting positions at the Canada Immigration and Refugee Board.

Yes, you read right.

It’s not the way Canada used to do things. We airlifted 5,000 refugees from Uganda in 1972, another 5,000 people from Kosovo in the 1990s, and assisted with the resettlement of 60,000 Vietnamese in 1979-80. Front-line workers were flown to remote islands in the South Pacific to process the Vietnamese refugees. The official who oversaw that airlift noted, “When the sun went down, they would light oil lamps and they would continue until they couldn’t keep their eyes open.”

But the Harper government has a different approach.

The government was unwelcoming to refugees throughout its four terms. It took a federal court decision to force Harper to provide adequate medical coverage for refugee claimants: the judge called their treatment “cruel and unusual.” Almost needless to say, the government is spending tax dollars appealing this ruling. Ontario decided to pick up the slack, restoring the needed healthcare—and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander had the nerve to scold the province for stepping in.

Roadblocks have been put in the way of refugees every step of the way. Far from the streamlined measures used for the Vietnamese years ago, desperate applicants must wait up to four years for a review by Canadian visa officials. Worse, it appears that the Harper government wants to pick and choose refugees based on their religion.

This is plain wrong, when the world is facing the gravest refugee crisis since the end of World War II. We need immediate measures put in place, not more empty election campaign talk. I am proud that our union has added its voice to those of so many other Canadians who want to help, moved by the human plight of so many millions of displaced people.

10,000 Syrian refugees by year’s end would be a good start. Our front line workers stand ready and willing to assist, but we need a lot of obstacles removed, and sufficient resources to deal with the new arrivals.

That photo of a drowned child whose family wanted to come to Canada made it personal for me and all Canadians. We can’t, we mustn’t, turn away. It’s not who we are.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on September 18, 2015 4:30 PM.

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