‘This is just the beginning’
How response to Syrian refugee crisis went from 10K in three years to months
When the Conservative government promised, in January 2015, to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees over three years, Liberal MP John McCallum didn’t buy it.
The Conservatives were under pressure to address the ongoing refugee crisis created by the Syrian civil war — millions of people were on the move and refugee settlements were bursting at the seams.
But pleas had fallen on deaf ears inside then-prime minister’s Stephen Harper’s office, including pitches from cabinet ministers about how the government could and should do more than the 1,300 people it already committed to bringing over.
Harper would only agree with a condition — the focus had to be on persecuted religious minorities from the country.
Given it was that or nothing, cabinet signed off, and on Jan. 7, a plan was announced — 10,000 people would be brought to Canada by 2018, most by private sponsors.
Then serving as immigration critic for his party, McCallum chided the government for relying on private sponsors, saying they needed to lift more of the load themselves. He was skeptical — given the Conservatives’ track record — that they’d meet the deadline.
“We could be waiting forever before 10,000 Syrian refugees arrive in Canada,” he told one news outlet.
Well, it isn’t going to be forever.
Before the Liberals took power on Nov. 4, about 1,263 Syrians had arrived in Canada under the Conservatives’ commitment to 10,000.
Since Nov. 4, a further 6,064 have arrived under a Liberal campaign commitment — a promise they partially expect to meet in the first two weeks of 2016 with the arrivals of nearly 4,000 more for a full 10,000.
But like the Conservatives before them, the Liberals are relying on private sponsors to hit that target.
Many of the refugees who arrived in 2015 were cases opened under the Conservatives, and some were already being fasttracked — the Conservatives sped up their timelines when they began getting blow back during the election.
A photograph of Alan Kurdi dead on a Turkish beach was the catalyst — the Syrian child and his family were trying to reach Europe. It emerged their family in B.C. had been trying to get some of them to Canada, but the paperwork was rejected.
The sudden attention to the issue saw the Liberals attach a timeline to their own Syrian refugee promise — they’d resettle 25,000 Syrians themselves by the end of the year and work with private sponsors to do more.
The number dated back months, part of the Liberal proposal advanced in March for how Canada could contribute to the war against ISIL.
When asked in an interview with The Canadian Press how the Liberals arrived at the number, McCallum — now the immigration minister — said it was a similar level to previous largescale refugee commitments.