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Commentary: Canada needs to renew responsibility towards refugees

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Just last month, the Canadian government fulfilled its commitment that it made in 2013 to bring 1,300 Syrian refugees into the country by the end of 2014. The government has announced a decision to receive 10,000 additional refugees in the next three years. However, as the civil war in Syria intensifies—with Syrians making up over one-fifth of the 866,000 new asylum claims logged last year—a discussion has arisen regarding whether Canada is doing enough to aid the displaced victims. Looking into Canada’s current level of commitment relative to its historical and present-day duties within the global context, it seems evident that the Canadian government is shirking its responsibilities to protect refugees.

In dissecting the country’s inadequate response to the refugee crisis, many Canadians have questioned the reason behind the significant lag in meeting this commitment. Although there are other reasons, such as unresolved inefficiencies in the refugee system, the main problem stems from the government’s lack of financial support.

According to CTV News, 60 per cent of the refugees are to be sponsored privately by humanitarian groups, with the government responsible for the remaining 40 per cent. Many organizations, such as Amnesty International Canada ,have pointed out the enormous difficulty in accommodating this ratio; each refugee sponsorship costs $12,000 on top of expenses such as housing and health care. To make matters worse, prior to making its commitment in 2013, the government failed to consult these organizations, which were then forced to bear the bulk of the financial burden. Therefore, there were no structured plans or fundraisers set in place by the private groups to help achieve the goal.

The claim that Canada has a responsibility during these times of crisis truly finds meaningful substance in the nation’s history.

Many argue that Canada has no moral responsibility to take in more refugees. However, ethical reasoning aside, it is abundantly clear that Canada is not fulfilling its role in a global sense. The majority of the displaced Syrians have been taken by their neighbouring countries such as Turkey and Lebanon. However, many Western countries have done their part to help—especially Germany and Sweden—with Canada’s contribution almost negligible in comparison. Sweden has taken in at least 40,000 Syrian refugees, despite having about a quarter of Canada’s population. Ultimately, by refusing to make a bigger contribution, Canada is indirectly harming those countries that made commitments to take in refugees, since they are left to shoulder the financial burden that comes with granting asylum. On top of harming Canada’s global image, this also runs the risk of damaging the country’s relationships with its diplomatic partners.

When accused of not doing enough, the Conservative Government brings up the fact that Canada has already pledged $50 million towards improving the situation in Syria. However, the truth of the matter is that this contribution does not even meet the United Nations’ proposed quota of $180 million. Canada will need to contribute significantly more before its monetary aid starts to make up for its poor acceptance of refugees.

Finally, the claim that Canada has a responsibility during these times of crisis truly finds meaningful substance in the nation’s history. Many Canadians recall their country’s refusal to help the refugees aboard MS St. Louis during the Second World War with great shame and regret. Since then Canada has carried the torch when it comes to aiding displaced people, especially in response to the Vietnamese boat people incident in 1978-1981, when the country welcomed so many refugees that they accounted for 25 per cent of Canada’s immigrants. For this kind of leadership and display of efficient humanitarianism, Canada is the only country to have been awarded the Nansen Refugee Award, granted by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). Not only have these events earned Canada its reputation as an influential country instilled with deep moral values, but the countless number of refugees who have made Canada their home has blessed the nation with its unique population and culture. In order for Canada to maintain its historical identity and fulfil its duties as a nation, the government must increase its commitment and provide more financial support for refugees.

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