OTTAWA – Canada is making new promises to refugees today at a UN conference in Geneva exploring the next steps in finding millions of Syrians safe homes.
Immigration Minister John McCallum is set to make three main commitments during his address to a meeting that includes the UN secretary general, the high commissioner for refugees and representatives of 91 other countries.
Canada will not be pledging more spots for Syrians at the meeting; that commitment – if one is made – would come closer to this fall’s announcement of the federal immigration plan for 2017.
But McCallum told The Canadian Press in an interview that in the meantime, there are other things Canada wants to do.
He says the Liberals will commit in Geneva to exploring ways to expand the number of refugees who could come to Canada as post-secondary students to continue their education.
“We already do that, but we would like to do that more,” he said from Geneva.
The government is also pledging to get the private sector more engaged in the economic integration of refugees.
A third pledge is to provide technical training and support to other countries in a bid to open up more spaces for the estimated 4.2 million Syrians fleeing the five-year-old civil war in that country.
The UN is hoping to find over 400,000 more resettlement spots for Syrians by 2018.
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McCallum said Canada also wants to work with other countries to find a way to get more Syrians out of Syria.
Syrians still in the country cannot be registered as refugees so the only way they can legally get out is through family reunification or economic immigration programs.
Reaching them would require working with the International Organization for Migration in areas where they are active inside Syria as well as the co-operation of the Syrian government.
“Where they work tends to be where the Assad government is in control,” McCallum acknowledged, but said there is precedent for such a program in the Vietnamese refugee resettlement efforts of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Canada’s rapid resettlement of Syrians is being given star billing at the UN conference, with McCallum giving a presentation on the program’s rollout and the UN expected to highlight the work of private Canadian sponsors in particular.
As of March 20, 26,202 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since the Liberals took power in November.
The Liberals have promised that by the end of this year, 25,000 government-assisted Syrian refugees in total will have been resettled to Canada and they have about 10,000 more to go.
Questions remain, however, as to how many Syrians in total Canada will accept in 2016 as it’s not clear how many privately sponsored Syrians will arrive.
After Geneva, McCallum is headed for Germany, currently the only country which has opened up more spaces for formal resettlement of Syrians than Canada.
According to UN figures, Germany has made just over 41,000 spaces for Syrians available since 2013 and Canada has offered just over 38,000.