London, February 9, 2007 — The Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, today announced that Canada will welcome an additional 2,000 Karen refugees from Burma (also known as Myanmar) over the next two years.
The Karen, a minority ethnic group, fled their country in 1995 following a major offensive by the Burmese government army against the Karen National Union. They are part of the 140,000 Burmese refugees who have been living in Thai refugee camps for up to 20 years. In 2006, Canada accepted a first group of 810 Karen for resettlement.
“Canada’s New Government is pleased to open our doors to an additional 2,000 Karen refugees, who have been living under terrible conditions for many years,” said Minister Finley. “We look forward to helping them rebuild their lives in a safe, welcoming environment. It is part of our long-standing tradition of providing protection for refugees.”
Canada has been working closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other countries to resettle groups of refugees considered more at risk than the general refugee population, namely, people who have suffered severe persecution, including torture, imprisonment, forced labour, the burning of villages and forced relocation in their homeland. The UNHCR has identified Karen refugees in Thailand as a distinct group with particular protection needs and vulnerabilities and has called upon the international community to help in resettling them.
“The willingness to resettle more Karen refugees demonstrates Canada’s determination to find solutions for vulnerable refugees who have long remained in camps and who can neither safely return home nor stay in their host country,” said Jahanshah Assadi, UNHCR Representative in Canada. “This bodes well for our continuing close cooperation in addressing protracted refugee situations, of which the Karens are a typical example.”
Of the 810 Karen refugees that Canada agreed to accept last year, 712 have already arrived and are settling in cities across the country. Ninety have settled in London, Ontario, where the Minister made the announcement.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada is working closely with settlement service agencies and private sponsoring groups as they deliver key services and supports to help the refugees adapt to a new and very different life in Canada. In order to ensure the long-term success of newcomers to Canada, Canada’s new government is making important investments, including $307 million in Budget 2006 for settlement funding in provinces other than Quebec, which has its own agreement.
“Here in London , the whole community pitched in to assist and welcome the 90 Karen who arrived in November 2006,” said Mary Williamson, Executive Director of the Cross Cultural Learner Centre, where the Karen stayed when they first arrived in London. “The people of this city have been so generous, even donating guitars and other musical instruments, for example, so the Karen can continue their choir practices, something that is very important to them. We’re ready and anxious to help the next group of Karen refugees who settle here.”
Other countries responding to the UNHCR call to resettle Karen refugees include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and The Netherlands.
Photos of the event at the Cross Cultural Learning Centre will be available on the CIC Web site at www.cic.gc.ca.
Video footage of Karen refugee camps in Thailand is available on the UNHCR Web site. Please contact Nanda Na Champassak by e-mail at email@example.com or by telephone at (613) 232-0909, extension 236.
For further information (media only), please contact:
Citizenship and Immigration
Spokesperson, Media Relations
Canada Citizenship and Immigration Canada