Con­ser­va­tives cherry-picked Syr­ian refugees: doc­u­ments

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Newly re­leased govern­ment doc­u­ments paint the clear­est pic­ture to date of how the Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment’s con­tro­ver­sial ap­proach to Syr­ian refugee re­set­tle­ment played out last year.

Be­fore last win­ter, the pre­vi­ous govern­ment had only com­mit­ted to take in 1,300 Syr­ian refugees from the mil­lions flee­ing the civil war there and spilling into sur­round­ing coun­tries.

For­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper had been un­der in­tense pres­sure — in­clud­ing from in­side his own cab­i­net — to in­crease that to­tal, but only agreed to ac­cept a fur­ther 10,000 pro­vided that religious and eth­nic mi­nori­ties were pri­or­i­tized.

The pol­icy, un­veiled last Jan­uary, was con­tentious. The vast ma­jor­ity of the Syr­ian refugee pop­u­la­tion is Mus­lim. The de­ci­sion to hone in on “religious mi­nori­ties” prompted al­le­ga­tions the govern­ment was bi­ased against Mus­lims and was also vi­o­lat­ing United Na­tions prin­ci­ples gov­ern­ing refugee re­set­tle­ment.

The refugees the Cana­dian govern­ment ac­cepts for re­set­tle­ment are cho­sen by the UN. They do not use eth­nic­ity or re­li­gion as a ba­sis for de­ter­min­ing whether some­one re­quires re­set­tle­ment to a third coun­try.

But doc­u­ments tabled in the House of Com­mons this week in re­sponse to a ques­tion from the NDP show how the Con­ser­va­tives found a work­around.

In Fe­bru­ary 2015, visa of­fi­cers in Jor­dan and Le­banon were in­structed to track “ar­eas of fo­cus” for Syr­ian refugees, which in­cluded track­ing whether some­one was a mem­ber of a vul­ner­a­ble eth­nic or religious mi­nor­ity, the doc­u­ments say.

They ap­plied that cri­te­ria to the files they were re­ceiv­ing from the UN.

“Cases meet­ing at least one of the ar­eas of fo­cus were iden­ti­fied for ex­pe­dited pro­cess­ing,” the doc­u­ments say. “Cases that did not meet the ar­eas of fo­cus were in­cluded in the mis­sion’s in­ven­tory and pro­cessed as a reg­u­lar case.”

The track­ing stopped in Novem­ber 2015.

The doc­u­ments also il­lus­trate the im­pact of an­other con­tro­ver­sial Con­ser­va­tive move last year — au­dit­ing govern­ment-as­sisted refugee case files to see whether they were in keep­ing with the ar­eas of fo­cus and se­cu­rity re­quire­ments.

Ac­cord­ing to the data tabled in the House of Com­mons, in June 2015, the high­est num­ber of govern­ment-as­sisted refugees ad­mit­ted to Canada so far that year was 62. That same month, Harper or­dered the au­dit.

The fol­low­ing month, ad­mis­sions fell to just 9 peo­ple.


Syr­ian refugee chil­dren walk out­side their fam­ily tents at a Syr­ian refugee camp, in the east­ern town of Kab Elias, Le­banon, Wed­nes­day.

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