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The worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War

Posted in Featured, Politics

Published on September 08, 2015 with No Comments

A Letter From Craig Scott

By now I am sure you are aware of the devastating scale of the Syrian refugee crisis. Canadians have been galvanized to act by the story and pictures of Aylan Kurdi, the toddler washed ashore after the boat taking him and his family to Greece capsized. His mother and brother were also lost and are now among the 2,500 refugees who have died this summer attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

But the scale of the disaster is so large, it is hard for many to grasp. The crisis has generated more than 4 million refugees and displaced more than 7.6 million Syrians within their own country. This is the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR – the UN’s refugee relief agency) aims to settle 130,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. To date, Canada has resettled 2,374 with a commitment to take an additional 8,926 by the end of 2017. Canada has a moral obligation to do much more.

Francois Crepeau, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, has called for the resettlement of 1 million Syrian refugees over the next five years. Canada’s share of the global total is relatively modest – 9,000 Syrian refugees per year.

My NDP colleagues and party leader Tom Mulcair are committed to working across partisan divides to tackle the crisis, and to facilitate independent initiatives being taken by Canadian citizens.

Indeed, I have been personally involved for over a year and a half, along with NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar and our MississaugaStreetsville candidate Fayaz Karim, in working with Syrian refugee support activists and organizations (many of them centred in Mississauga), to demand a more robust response to the crisis from the Harper government. We had been shocked to learn that government ministers were spreading misleading information about the extent of Canada’s official support for Syrian refugees, in turn placing almost the entire burden of relief and response on private sponsors.

Now that the truth is known about the inadequate Canadian response, it’s up to all of us to make sure Canada and the world community rise to the task—to provide sanctuary and to relieve the massive suffering of these millions of families.

Critical to that mission is that Canada contribute to multilateral efforts coming from the United Nations. We simply must respond to the UN’s appeal. That is why, working as a government alongside compassionate Canadians, alongside other states that must accept more refugees, and alongside the UN, Tom Mulcair and the NDP are committed to bring more than 46,000 Syrian refugees to Canada.

Here is a summary of the 5-part NDP plan for immediate government action—urgent but practical steps that can be taken now—plus some additional ideas:

  1. Resettle 10,000 Government-sponsored refugees by the end of this year, plus 9,000 per year for the next four years. Appoint a Syrian Refugee Coordinator to oversee the resettlement of 10,000 refugees by the end of this year, and 9,000 per year between 2016 and 2019, making it a priority to keep families together.
  2. Improve refugee resettlement. Fast-track private refugee sponsorships, with no cap, and provide temporary residency permits for Syrians seeking to come and stay temporarily with family.
  3. Acclerate arrival of refugees in Canada. Increase the number of immigration officials and assist provinces, territories, municipalities, and others to resettle refugees.
  4. Remove bureaucratic obstacles to settlement. Work with Turkey and other affected countries to streamline exit requirements, and treat all refugees equally by ending Canada’s policy of discrimination on the basis of religion.
  5. Increase Canada’s humanitarian contribution. Match Canadians’ humanitarian donations, increase aid to the UNHCR, and help coordinate the response of the international community.

Again, these are steps that can be set in motion immediately, and we call on the Prime Minister to act on them.

There is also much you can do as an individual.

Many people in Toronto are contributing to Lifeline Syria, chaired by the respected Ratna Omidvar, which is seeking to help settle 1,000 families in the GTA. You can find out more about their work and make a contribution atlifelinesyria.ca. The Canadian Red Cross is providing essential relief items for refugees still in Syria and those in Europe. You can make an online donation at www.redcross.ca. You can help the UN Refugee Agency collect funds for emergency supplies and medical care at www.unhcr.ca. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières is also very active in the crisis zones, and can be reached through www.msf.ca.

This moment is about who we are as a country and what we believe our responsibility to be as part of the global community. This issue goes beyond partisanship. It is a Canadian issue and demands action. Lets not waste another day.

Craig Scott


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