ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

At a News Conference to Make an Important Announcement on Refugee Resettlement

Rotary Centre for New Canadians
Edmonton, Alberta

July 3, 2013

As delivered

Good morning, I’m Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, and I would first of all like to thank the Rotary Centre for New Canadians and the Edmonton Catholic Social Services for hosting us here today.

I just had a wonderful meeting with a number of the Iraqi refugees who we’ve welcomed to Canada in the past few years. Since I became minister of Immigration, in 2008, Canada has welcomed nearly 16,000 Iraqi refugees, such as the wonderful people who are with us here this morning. We thank you for your presence and all that you’re doing to successfully integrate into Canadian society. And I would like to thank all of the private sponsors and community groups, such as Catholic Social Services, who have helped to make Canada a new and welcoming, safe and free home for people like this, who have been victims of violence and ethnic cleansing, particularly on the grounds of religious persecution. We welcome them to Canada, as I had a chance to do officially today, and to hear some of the stories of difficulty, but also of success that these new Canadians are going through.

They represent Canada’s great tradition as a land of refuge and protection for victims of persecution from around the world. Canada was founded in part by refugees such as the United Empire Loyalists, who fled persecution during the American Revolutionary War; the escaped slaves from the United States, who came to Canada in the 19th century, for whom this was the north star of freedom; the Jewish victims of pogroms in Eastern Europe in the early part of the 20th century; and the more than one-million refugees that Canada has welcomed since the Second World War, many of them victims of oppressive Communist and totalitarian regimes.

This tradition of refugee protection represents what is best about Canada. Indeed, Canada welcomes one out of every ten resettled refugees worldwide. Every year, we resettle in the range of 13,000 resettled refugees to Canada, in addition of course to the many thousands who successfully obtain asylum through our fair legal system. Canada is really the world leader on a per capita basis. We have typically been the first or second country in terms of refugee resettlement and protection, and that is why I’m pleased to again announce today that we’ve admitted some 16,000 Iraqi refugees who fled sectarian conflict over the past several years, and we’re on track to meet our commitment of welcoming some 20,000 Iraqi refugees by 2015 in what is the world’s largest refugee program for Iraqis on a per capita basis.

Now we’ve had some challenges in meeting our targets in the past two years for Iraqis, precisely because of the war in Syria, which forced us to shut down Canada’s embassy and the immigration office in Damascus early in 2012. But we’re still on track to meet our target. However, we know that the very war that forced us to close down our embassy is creating new refugees. In fact, in the words of António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, it is one of the world’s largest refugee crisis in modern times, as millions of Syrians have fled the conflict to neighboring countries –  to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – and of course, millions more are internally displaced within Syria itself.

Now along with many other governments, ours is deeply concerned about this crisis and we’ll continue to do what we can to best help Syrians adversely affected by the conflict. Canada has already committed to resettle up to 5,000 refugees now in Turkey by 2018. These refugees are mainly Iraqis and Iranians. There is not just a Syrian problem, there are many refugee crises simultaneously in this region. But this commitment will ease the burden on Turkey, freeing up resources for the current influx of Syrians seeking relief.

Last month when he was in Northern Ireland attending the G8 Summit, Prime Minister Harper announced that Canada will be providing $115-million in new support to help address the humanitarian and development challenges in Syria and its neighboring countries, which are receiving hundreds of thousands of refugees. During his recent visit to Jordan, my colleague John Baird, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that we will help that country cope with the enormous burden as a result of the Syrian crisis, with $100-million of reliable funding for the next three years, which will, among other things, enhance security in Jordan’s sprawling refugee camps.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has stated repeatedly that only a political situation can end the violence and the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Canada continues to work with the international community toward this end. Obviously, the UN is not asking partner countries to undertake a large-scale resettlement of displaced Syrians. We cannot solve a refugee crisis involving millions of people by just seeking to airlift them to a handful of developed countries. That is completely unrealistic and, in fact, is not a long-term solution.

That being said, we’re ready to respond immediately to the call from the UN to resettle a limited number of Syrian refugees who have been identified as those most in need of urgent protection. Canada’s made an initial commitment to resettle up to 1,300 Syrian refugees from Lebanon and Jordan over two years. In response to the United Nations’ appeal for Canada to resettle a limited number of extremely vulnerable, urgent cases, we will resettle 200 extremely vulnerable Syrian refugees through our Government- Assisted Refugees Program this year and in 2014.

In addition, we’ve been working with private sponsorship organizations, and we’ve committed to accepting up to 1,100 Syrian refugees next year through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program. I’ve met with hundreds of Canadians of Syrian origin over the past year and have heard their anxiety and their desire to help with those who are facing danger and have had to flee their homes. These 1,100 spaces that we’re setting aside will be over and above a global cap that we’ve had on Sponsorship Agreement Holder spaces that we needed to help reduce the backlog in that program.

With today’s announcement, Canada is meeting its commitment to the UN and making an important contribution to the coordinated global effort to help Syrian refugees. Our focus, and that of our allies, of course remains on finding a long-term political solution to the crisis there. Our country is making an important effort to ensure that the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are provided protection and assistance by resettling them here permanently.

In addition, my department will provide $2.3-million over two years to strengthen the UN’s global resettlement capacity through a partnership with UNHCR and the International Catholic Migration Commission. This funding includes almost $1-million to support the deployment of up to five resettlement specialists to directly assist with the resettlement of displaced Syrians in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. And we’re expediting the processing of family class applications for Canadians who have relatives from Syria – we’re doing that as quickly as we can, given the circumstances. Almost all of the family class applications that were in our system have already been finalized.

Canadians are proud of our great and longstanding tradition of providing protection to victims of persecution and this kind of violence, and the measures I’m announcing today are good examples of how we will continue to do so.

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