Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Canada

Drawbacks of Hybrid/Blended Refugee Resettlement Schemes

Canada’s commitment to Syrian refugee settlement was first outlined in March 2016 by the minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. Accordingly, Canada pledged to continue to consider Syrian refugees as prima facie refugees until September 2017. However, it is worthy of note that the priority processing for Syrians led to files for refugees from protracted situations to languish in a backlog of sponsored applications for non-Syrian refugees.  

Secondly, private sponsorships have also been widely utilized to assist with family reunification. Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act defines ‘family’ in nuclear terms and extended families are often divided and separated through the resettlement process. The Conservative federal government under Harper administration openly expressed concerns that private sponsorships became a de facto pathway for refugees to reunite with family members left behind in camps or settlements. In this sense, these programs hold a light on some of the weakest parts of Canadian immigration policy framework. 

Third, there is a growing call for greater involvement of refugees in shaping their own resettlement plans and for the re-conceptualization of sponsorship as a partnership between refugees and their sponsors, as well as measures such as the expanded use of places of worship for hosting widely used programs such as healthcare and employment services to ensure adequate access to services. Furthermore, issues of fair selection and successful settlement of refugees remain open to further debate and deliberation.  

Lastly, under the aegis of the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative spearheaded by Canada, Australia and Britain now have private sponsorship schemes underway. Meanwhile, as the documents showcased in this archive illustrate, the unique combination of political leadership and direct civil society engagement is pivotal for the undertaking and successful continuation of such programs. In the case of Syrian refugees, just as in the case of Indochinese refugees back in 1979, Canadian civil society and citizens’ initiatives nudged the government to provide a wider circle of active support for refugee resettlement. While this certainly promises the continuation of the dialogue between the Canadian society and the state concerning the recognition of the needs of vulnerable groups and their systemic incorporation into the immigration regime, it also could lead to the federal government off-loading its principled duties for humanitarian protection to be included in the mainstream budget and resource allocations of the mainstream immigration and citizenship programs.

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