Canada’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis has received international praise, however some critics are putting the spotlight on where the federal government may be falling short.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was applauded at the UN General Assembly in September when he spoke about how Canada has welcomed Syrian refugees with open arms.
But in Middle East countries neighbouring Syria, an estimated 5,000 refugees are still waiting, despite being already matched with private sponsors in Canada.
Ian Urquhart, a journalist and volunteer with Canada4Refugees, told CTV News Channel on Thursday that 5,000 privately-sponsored refugees are still waiting after the initial promise to relocate.
Urquhart recently wrote an op-ed in the Toronto Star urging Ottawa to eliminate the backlog of privately sponsored Syrians overseas.
In an interview with CTV’s Your Morning Thursday, Urquhart said that when the government hit its target of 25,000 refugees at the end of February 2016, “they pulled resources from processing all those refugees.” This has resulted in a backlog of refugees waiting to come to Canada.
“By the end of March last year, there were still 12,500 … Syrian refugees with private sponsorship groups in Canada waiting for them, but they hadn’t been processed yet,” Urquhart said.
“The process now is very slow and we still have, by our count, at least 5,000 still waiting to get here.”
Urquhart said that he and his neighbours in Toronto formed their own private sponsorship group, and they have been waiting more than a year for their sponsored family of five to arrive on Canadian soil.
“We were told in January 2016 that the arrival of our refugee family was imminent,” he said.
He said his group made all the preparations, including raising funds, and collecting clothing and furniture and a living space for the family “and we’re still waiting.” Urquhart suggested his “experience is repeated across the country.”
He understands that immigration and security officials must process the families to ensure refugees coming into the country don’t have serious health problems or any criminal background.
“You need to do those checks and we’re not quarrelling with that, but those checks require resources and the government has pulled those resources away and has, so far, refused to put them back in to clear up this backlog.”
Immigration department response
In a statement to CTV’s Your Morning, the office of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said that they “continue to work towards meeting the Government’s commitment to process all Syrian cases received through Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program by early 2017.”
The office also said that some refugees who remain overseas are awaiting final interviews, flight bookings or final medical and security screenings.
But Urquhart said early 2017 “is now, and the government is not going to make its own deadline.”
Meanwhile, Urquhart said the family his group is sponsoring, which includes three young children, are trying “very hard to make ends meet” in Turkey.
“We tell them that we hope the process is coming to an end but we’ve been saying that for months and they’re very frustrated.”