OTTAWA – Another 10,000 Syrian refugees will be resettled in Canada over the next three years, the Conservative government promised Wednesday.
It’s a major increase to a commitment the government has already struggled to meet, prompting questions about how feasible it will be to get some of the world’s most vulnerable people out of the ongoing conflict in the region.
The pledge is a direct response to a request made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees late last year for countries to dramatically increase the number of refugees they would accept by 2016 in response to a humanitarian crisis that’s reaching historical proportions.
The UNHCR said Wednesday that Syrian refugees now make up the largest population under their protection, outpacing Afghans for the first time in 30 years.
An estimated 3.2 million Syrians are seeking refuge in countries in the region , and Canada’s new pledge reflects the country’s commitment to those people, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said in a statement.
“We do this not only because we can, but because it is right and just,” he said.
In the summer of 2013, the Conservative promised that by the end of the following year, it would resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees identified by the UN high commissioner as being in need of immediate assistance.
The immigration department said Wednesday that as of the end of December, close to 1,100 refugees from that commitment have arrived with the remainder expected to come by March 2015.
They’ve been resettled both directly by the government and by private groups, some of whom have suggested the resettlement program announced in 2013 came as a surprise to them, and that’s what caused some of the delays in getting any Syrians into Canada.
It’s the UN who determines which refugees qualify for resettlement, using a set of criteria developed to make sure the most vulnerable populations, such as victims of torture or sexual violence, get the protection they need.
The Canadian government has been working with the UN for the last month to finalize the new resettlement plan, but did not immediately provide details on whether certain specific refugee groups would be sought.
In addition to more Syrian refugees, the government announced a further increase to its commitment to those from Iraq, saying an additional 3,000 would be resettled by the end of 2015, on top of the 20,000 already in Canada.
The promise to help more refugees also came with an additional $90 million in humanitarian assistance for the region.