Pres­sure to help re­set­tle Iraqis grow­ing

Cana­dian MPs dis­cuss is­sue of in­ter­nal dis­place­ment

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - STEPHANIE LEVITZ

This fall, fed­eral pub­lic ser­vants are ex­pected to go to north­ern Iraq to fig­ure out how to get hun­dreds of peo­ple from there to Canada as refugees.

It’s the first time Cana­dian staff will go to Er­bil, the cap­i­tal of Iraqi Kur­dis­tan, ex­pressly for that pur­pose.

Pri­vate spon­sor­ship groups and the govern­ment have been try­ing to find a way to get refugees out of the area for months, but have been stymied by a lack of Cana­dian re­sources on the ground.

That the Im­mi­gra­tion Depart­ment is send­ing in a team is one re­sult of on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal pres­sure on the Lib­eral govern­ment to con­tinue a flat-out push to re­set­tle refugees in the spirit of the pro­gram that saw 25,000 Syr­i­ans brought to Canada in a mat­ter of months.

This week, the House of Com­mons im­mi­gra­tion com­mit­tee will ap­ply more pres­sure.

They’re hold­ing an un­prece­dented se­ries of sum­mer meet­ings ex­am­in­ing how to use im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy to help any­one, not just refugees, dis­placed by con­flict come to Canada.

The fact there are few le­gal av­enues be­yond pri­vate spon­sor­ship for those flee­ing con­flict to im­mi­grate to Canada on hu­man­i­tar­ian grounds is a quirk of United Na­tions def­i­ni­tions around refugees and dis­placed peo­ple and a re­set­tle­ment pol­icy that dates back to 1951, said Bo­rys Wrzes­newskyj, the Lib­eral chair of the com­mit­tee.

But a siz­able num­ber of peo­ple don’t fit those cat­e­gories, he said.

“We can’t stand by and wring our hands in angst and say well, it doesn’t fit,” he said.

The im­mi­gra­tion com­mit­tee’s study has its roots in Op­po­si­tion Con­ser­va­tive MP Michelle Rem­pel’s de­sire to ac­cel­er­ate ef­forts to re­set­tle Yazidis, an eth­ni­cally Kur­dish mi­nor­ity group whose treat­ment at the hands of Is­lamic mil­i­tants was termed a geno­cide by the UN last month.

Some Yazidis are in Tur­key, where pri­vate spon­sors are up against the Turk­ish govern­ment’s no­to­ri­ously slow ap­provals process for exit per­mits. The failed coup of the last few days is likely to make mat­ters worse.

But most Yazidis are in north­ern Iraq, and since that’s their home coun­try, the UN won’t re­fer them to coun­tries like Canada for re­set­tle­ment.

The Tories ar­gue that the plight of the Yazidis is so se­vere that the Lib­er­als should specif­i­cally ask the UN to help get them out. The team headed to Er­bil in the fall is only pro­cess­ing ex­ist­ing ap­pli­ca­tions.

The govern­ment has so far re­sisted those calls. The Lib­er­als also re­sisted pres­sure from the Con­ser­va­tives to la­bel the acts of tor­ture, sex­ual slav­ery, forced con­ver­sions and killings of Yazidis as a geno­cide, agree­ing only af­ter the UN re­port was re­leased.

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