Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Canada

Back to the Future

Contrary to the public policy discourse, the evolution of Canada’s immigration policy between 1979 and 2016 has been characterized by greater degree of exclusion of select groups. The series of policy reforms in the past four decades have been brought to an apex by numerous deep-seated changes introduced by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper (in power from 2006–2015), including making Canadian citizenship harder to obtain and easier to lose, institutionalizing initiatives to reduce the annual number of refugee claimants, ever increasing strict control the flows of refugees as a reverse response to the growing numbers at the global scale, and, intensification of surveillance of borders and in-house Canadian diaspora communities in ways that are racialized and gendered. Against this background, en masse acceptance of Syrian refugees should be considered a success initiated and further pushed by the private actors in Canadian society at large, rather than a vision willingly embraced by the state. Many of the documents the reader is introduced in this web archive trace the development of the Syrian initiative despite the political hesitations expressed by the administration and worrisome policy debates marking the initial stages of the development of this particular initiative.

Once refugees are granted protection in a particular host country, there is little concern about where in that country they are settled and what means they have to build new lives. Yet matching refugees with localities and job opportunities matters enormously for their chances to prosper in the settlement country. Private sponsorship programmes, and in particular the BVOR system, has to build in respect for the priorities and capacities of localities and at the same time, allow for agency to refugees to make decisions about their own lives and futures. As the legal and political debates showcased in this web archive illustrate, setting up the program is the beginning of a long journey. Furthermore, identification of special groups for en masse entry alleviates addressing of the ongoing global problem of forced displacement only to a limited degree. As the Syrians of today become Canadians of tomorrow, there will be new groups awaiting urgent solutions. The Canadian refugee acceptance system has to incorporate this reality into its infrastructure rather than resorting to ad hoc humanitarian gestures partially funded by the public for a limited duration. Suffice to note that the Canadian debate of Syrian refugees in the pre-2015 election period was at best dubious and it only began to shift following the release of the iconic Alan Kurdi photo leading to a more humanizing depiction of Syrian refugee families and their resettlement. Even the most appealing policy initiatives such as the Canadian Liberal Government’s #WelcomeRefugees project, a government assisted resettlement project for displaced victims of the Syrian civil war, should therefore be investigated in this larger context of changing political and historical conditions that inform and shape the opinions of the Canadian society at large. 

This most recent refugee crisis indeed raises important political and legal questions for both the Canadian public and Canadian policy makers. Who is deemed to be a deserving refugee, who is eligible for resettlement and based on what criteria, keeps changing. The current and future saliency of migration could be succinctly revealed by examining factors such as which categories of migration hold significance, how they are constructed and determined, and, by whom. The debate continues and must do so above and beyond policy measures, legal requirements and formal immigration regimes. It is also of utmost importance to underline that private sponsorship programs are to be in place as a complementary element to government-assisted resettlement commitments. They cannot eradicate the necessity of the Canadian government to fulfill its international obligations and humanitarian commitments in the face of mass displacements. Neither are the Syrians likely to be the last group to suffer such a fate.  

Further Reading: Mitton, John. "The Problem with Everybody's Favourite Solution in Syria." International Journal: Canada's Journal of Global Policy Analysis 71, no. 2 (2016): 283-290.

Canadian immigration and refugee provisions traditionally defined two different types of refugees depending on where the applicants were located when submitting an asylum claim (from within Canada or elsewhere), subsequently subjecting them to different procedures and conditions to apply, as well as different benefits and support if their claims were approved. Under the In-Canada Asylum Program, if the claim is successfully submitted in person from within Canada at any Port of Entry (POE), the applicant receives a Refugee Claimant status and is entitled to stay in the country under certain conditions and limited rights while his/her application is processed. In the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, on the other hand, if the applicant’s claim is submitted from outside Canada, refugee applicants have to remain outside the country until a decision on his/her claim is reached. If an asylum claim submitted from outside the country is approved, the applicant is allowed to come to Canada and is eligible to be sponsored by private entities, public funds, or a combination of both. Since 2016, Syrian war victims were largely resettled under the Sponsored Refugees or Resettled Refugees category and are given particular benefits and support accordingly. In the post-Syrian settlement phase of Canadian refugee policy framework, the critical question is whether the number of refugees annually given Refugee Claimant status in Canada significantly falls behind the number of Sponsored Refugees in the country. Given that the Inland Refugee Program continues to be the main source of refugees in the country, it is very important to regard schemes of private sponsorship or private-public joint sponsorship and blended visa approvals as an addition to the already existing framework. However, as the archived documents attest, this particular concern is yet to be voiced in current public and policy debates.

Further Reading: Garcea, Joseph. "The Resettlement of Syrian Refugees: The Positions and Roles of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and its Members." Canadian Ethnic Studies 48, no. 3 (2016): 149-173.

This page has paths:

This page references: