Lee Berthiaume (Ottawa Citizen):
The Conservative government imposed a new rule for potential refugees in 2012 — a change refugee groups say is squarely to blame for why so few Syrians have made it to Canadian soil.
The rule also appears to have played a key role in the government’s refusal to let a B.C. woman, Tima Kurdi, privately sponsor her brother Mohammed Kurdi and his family to come to Canada.
After Mohammed’s application was returned to Tima, their other brother, Abdullah, tried to flee with his family from Turkey to Greece. Their boat capsized and Abdullah’s two young sons and wife all drowned. Pictures of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed ashore in Turkey shocked the world this week.
The refugee groups say they have repeatedly called on Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and the government to exempt Syrians from the rule — which says the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) or another country must first designate a person as a refugee before immigration officials will consider letting them be privately sponsored to come to Canada.
But they say their requests have been ignored.
Then-immigration minister Jason Kenney implemented the new rule in October 2012 as part of a broader Conservative government overhaul of Canada’s refugee system.
It only applies to those refugees being sponsored by groups of five or more Canadians, called G5s. It does not apply to so-called sponsorship agreement holders, which are large organizations like churches and community associations that have a long history of privately sponsoring refugees to come to Canada.
Briefing notes obtained by the Citizen say the change was intended to protect against fraud, but also to deal with a large backlog of applications from private sponsors while speeding up applications. “It is anticipated that this regulatory change will reduce G5 submissions by 70 per cent,” reads one memo to Kenney.
Refugee groups are now hoping the Kurdi tragedy, and resulting groundswell of interest in sponsoring Syrian refugees, will prompt the government to finally waive the rule. Otherwise, they warn, all those Canadians clamouring to help will face the same result as Tima Kurdi.
“There are so many Syrian Canadians and non-Syrian Canadians who are interested in coming together and helping,” Vancouver immigration lawyer Fadi Yachoua said. “But this regulation is making it very difficult for people to even begin the process.”