The Canadian government could be doing more for people fleeing Syria's civil war and stuck in refugee camps in Turkey, some Syrians in Canada say.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials have said Canada can't take Syrian refugees out of Turkey's 17 camps because the Turkish government isn't allowing any refugee to leave until the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has made decision regarding their case.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney toured two of the Turkish camps in January, and the government has announced it is contributing $1.5 million to the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement to aid the refugees of the conflict, on top of $8.5 million in aid it has already provided.
While there have been calls for Canada to take in refugees from Syria, Canada is following the UNHCR recommendation that it is too early in the crisis to discuss resettlement.
Turkish laws at issue
A spokewoman for Kenney said Turkish laws regarding refugees are holding up any potential refugee claims.
"The fact is that Turkey does not allow potential refugees to leave the country, nor does Turkey issue exit visas, until the UNHCR has made a decision on their case and refers their case to a country for resettlement. The UNHCR has not made a decision in many cases, and is not referring any Syrian cases for resettlement," Alexis Pavlich, press secretary to Jason Kenney, wrote in an emailed statement.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokeswoman Ana Curic had earlier said Canada's hands are tied.
"We obviously understand the anxiety Syrian Canadians are feeling right now. Until they get a decision from the UNHCR they can't even get out of Turkey — there's nothing we can do, that's Turkish law," Curic said.
Ambassador disputes claims
Tuncay Babali, Turkey's ambassador to Canada, said the claims are unfounded and that his government's position has been misrepresented.
"We have no such decision at all, and people who are in the camps can leave freely, wherever they desire to go," Babali said. "Turkey is ready to co-operate on this, and everybody in the camps is free to leave. There is no such characterization. It's a misrepresentation."
For Syrians with relatives in refugee camps, the confusion adds to the anxiety.
Syrian in Ottawa concerned for relatives
Thair Hafez owns a car dealership in the Ottawa neighbourhood of Westboro but recently took a risk, travelling to the heart of the Syrian civil war. He also visited relatives who fled to Turkey, where five large families are sharing a single apartment in the town of Reyhanli.
Hafez said he is grateful to Turkey but disappointed in Canada, where he's lived for three decades.
"Canada as a country, they did not contribute but they can do better. In the past they helped Iraqis, the Lebanese, the Somalians, the Kosovans, the Bosnians," Hafez said.
Syrian refugee numbers could increase by two or three times by the end of 2013 if Syria's civil war continues, according to António Guterres, the UNHCR's high commissioner.
In December, the UN estimated the number of Syrian refugees would reach 1.1 million by the end of June.