British Columbia

Syrian refugee crisis leaving other refugees waiting in camps, says advocate Chris Friesen

An immigration advocate says Canada's approach to the Syrian refugee crisis means other refugees are being bumped down the list after waiting years to rebuild their lives.

Chris Friesen says many refugees have spent years living in refugee camps, waiting to come to Canada

In this file photo, a Somali refugee receives soap and an oil container as she checks in at UNHCR's Ifo Extension camp set outside Dadaab in Kenya. (Jerome Delay/The Associated Press)

An immigration advocate says the way Canada has dealt with the Syrian refugee crisis means refugees from elsewhere are being bumped down the list after waiting years to rebuild their lives.

"Usually when the UN introduces an urgent resettlement appeal it is done on the basis of over and above your current commitments, not integrated in your current commitments," said Chris Friesen with Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

But, Friesen says, Canada has incorporated its commitment to welcome Syrian refugees into pre-existing annual targets, pushing refugees from other parts of the world further and further down the waiting list.

"The number one resettlement priority in the world is actually from the continent of Africa, where 21 countries are producing refugees at a phenomenal rate," said Friesen.

"There are close to 400,000 refugees on the continent of Africa who are waiting ... for an opportunity to rebuild their lives in this country and in others."

Friesen says there are people living at Daadab, the largest refugee camp in the world, in northeastern Kenya, who have been waiting there for 30 years — a generation of people who know nothing else.

And it's not just Kenya.

Friesen also cites the case of Colombian refugees in Ecuador and Burmese refugees in India, Malaysia and Bangladesh, who are also stuck in long-term refugee camp situations.

'This is unprecedented'

The UN refugee agency, UN HCR, says the number of people who have had to flee their homes because of conflict has reached an all-time high this year.

According to numbers from June, one in every 122 people in the world is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. 

The UN points out that if that were the population of a country, it would be the 24th biggest country in the world — and half the population would be children.

Friesen says the wave of interest in Syrian refugees is unprecedented and hopes it will extend to refugees in other parts of the world.

"It has to," he says.

"In the last three weeks, we had a Liberian single woman arrive here after spending 20 years in an Angolan refugee camp. 

"Twenty years she waited to start to rebuild her life in this country ... We're not doing as much as we should be." 


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