Federal government to match up to $100 million in refugee donations
Ten days after a photo of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi lying dead on the beach triggered an outpouring of empathy and support for the Syrian refugee crisis, Stephen Harper’s government announced that it will match Canadian donations up to $100 million to help millions of Syrians living in turmoil.
The announcement came Saturday through International Development Minister Christian Paradis, who stressed that the federal government has started increasing resources on the ground.
"We are deploying now more resources in Beirut, in Ankara, in Amman," he said. "We have more people on the ground to make sure that the processing is accelerated.
"That being said the backlog has been reduced by 50 per cent across the board."
An estimated four million people have fled Syria since civil war broke out in 2011, and millions have lived in refugee camps and risked their lives on precarious overseas journeys in search of asylum in Europe.
The Conservative leader faced wide-spread scrutiny and a brief slump in the polls after his military-focused response to the issue, which former prime minister Jean Chretien slammed as “a cold-hearted reaction” in an open letter published this weekend.
Despite an initial insistence that plenty had been done to mitigate the refugee crisis, Harper suggested at rally last week that his government would take further steps to help.
Speaking in Ottawa, Paradis referred to a "three-pillar-plan" to address the refugee crisis. The plan includes partaking in the coalition fight against ISIS, continuing to be a top donor in humanitarian aid, and continuing to process refugee applications.
The federal government will match all “eligible” donations up to $100 million until December 31 under the new Syrian Emergency Relief Fund, Paradis said. He added that $503.5-million of humanitarian aid has already been provided since the dawn of the Syrian civil war.
A second announcement on the federal government’s response is expected in a few days.
The plan has been welcomed by the CEO of the Canadian Red Cross, who said it falls in line with a broader plan to mitigate the crisis.
“I think we need to do what we’re doing now: looking at both the needs of the refugees, but also looking at the source of the problem, which is the conflict itself,” Conrad Sauve told CTV News Channel Saturday.
“So these are good announcements from the Red Cross perspective.”
At a news conference held later in the day, Adam Vaughan, the Liberal candidate for Spadina-Fort York, responded to the announcement by saying that financial support is only part of the solution the refugee crisis, adding that any response that doesn’t involve allowing more government-sponsored refugees into Canada would be insufficient.
Vaughan -- who was joined by Liberal candidate for Hull-Aylmer Greg Fergus -- also called on the Conservatives to put party politics aside and work with other parties toward a streamlined process of bringing asylum-seekers into the country.
“Canadians are coming together. Politicians should come together. That’s what Canadians expect of us,” Vaughan said. “I don’t this is a partisan issue. This is a Canadian issue.”
In similar fashion, the NDP applauded the funding announcement but said more can be done to ensure lasting support.
"We must not stop there. It is our duty to implement a concrete plan to help Syrian refugees now and over the years to come," Paul Dewar, the NDP's foreign affairs critic, said in a statement.
If elected in October, the Liberals have promised to resettle 25,000 refugees before the end of the year. The NDP said it would accept 46,000 government-sponsored refugees by 2019, including 10,000 by the end of 2015.
Prior to the federal government’s donation-matching announcement, Chretien issued a scathing statement on Harper’s treatment of the refugee crisis.
“Today, with great sadness and shame, I am watching Mr. Harper’s cold-hearted reaction to the tragedy of refugees from Syria and Iraq … He has shamed Canada in the eyes of Canadians and the international community,” Chretien wrote in the open letter, published in several Canadian newspapers Saturday morning.
He ended the letter by urging voters to consider peace-building when they cast their ballots in October.
“Let’s take back our place in the world,” he wrote.
Ontario pledges $10.5M in support
The federal government’s announcement came on the heels of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s pledge of $10.5 million in funding to help settle refugees in the province and to support international relief efforts.
“The Syrian refugee crisis is the worst in decades, and every day, conflicts in other countries are forcing people to flee their homes,” Wynne said Saturday. “We can and must do far more to respond to those who need our help. This funding will help thousands of refugees find a warm welcome in Ontario and give them the support they need to start building new lives here.”
Wynne said Ontario would provide $2 million in immediate relief efforts through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN World Food Programme. The other $8.5 million will be spread out over the next two-and-half years to help refugees settle and integrate in Ontario.
“We want to bring more people, we want to support them when they are here, and we recognize that there is an ongoing need for aid overseas,” Wynne said.
The premier also announced that Ontario aims to resettle 10,000 refugees by the end of 2016.
The province had already pledged $300,000 to Lifeline Syria, an organization trying to bring 1,000 asylum-seekers from the war-torn country to Toronto.
Manitoba has also offered $40,000 to help refugee-settlement services and Quebec is aiming to resettle nearly 2,000 refugees by the end of the year.
While several groups across the country are working to resettle refugees through private sponsorship, the number of government-sponsored refugees to Canada is decided by the federal government -- which has recently faced mounting public criticism of the way it has dealt with the crisis.
Wynne has also been urging the Harper government to streamline the process of bringing refugees to Canada in order to help more asylum-seekers.
“As we watch the toll of human suffering continue to mount, it is clear that we need to do more,” Wynne said. “It is everyone’s responsibility…to find a way to do everything that we can.”