Nfld. & Labrador

Canada's immigration system is backlogged, needs reform, says refugee advocate

A local advocate blames a clogged up immigration system for the fact that Newfoundland and Labrador has only allowed a handful of Syrian refugees into the province.

'They're looking for an opportunity to be alive'

Jose Rivera, chairman of the Refugee Immigrant Advisory Council, said he receives up to 20 emails a day from Syrian refugees seeking a home in Canada, but that there is little he can do to help. 1:37

A local advocate blames a clogged up immigration system for the fact that Newfoundland and Labrador has only allowed a handful of Syrian refugees into the province.

"They're looking for an opportunity to be alive. An opportunity to see their children grow, an opportunity to be productive members of society," said Jose Rivera, chairman of the Refugee Immigrant Advisory Council in St. John's.
Jose Rivera says he receives several emails a day from Syrian refugees looking for a home in Canada. (CBC)

Rivera said he receives up to 20 emails a day from Syrian refugees seeking a home in Canada, but that there is little he can do to help.

"Watching the news and reading these messages every day, that goes straight to my heart," he said.

The plight of four million Syrian refugees has haunted the public consciousness this week, as tragic images of a Syrian toddler who drowned while making the crossing to Greece have circulated widely on the internet.

Refugees good for population growth, Rivera says

The United Nations has asked Canada to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees; so far only 2,500 have been accepted. Rivera said roughly 20 Syrian refugees have made it into Newfoundland and Labrador.

"There was a case of a couple that managed to come and left behind their children in the care of someone else because they were told that once they'd come, it'd be 'easy' for them to bring their children," Rivera said.

"They've been here for a year, two years, and nothing has happened. Their children are not with them."

Rivera, who came to Canada himself as a refugee 14 years ago, said that allowing more refugees in would be beneficial for Newfoundland and Labrador's population growth strategy.

"There's people out there that are pleading for help and they are willing to do whatever it takes to be alive and be of help," he said.

"The backlog is humongous and the process is something we cannot understand. The system has been tightening up all over."

Premier Paul Davis says he's open to considering allowing more Syrian refugees into Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

Premier Paul Davis said taking more refugees from Syria isn't something his government has thought about, but he's open to talking about it. 

"It's not something I've heard or that I've given consideration to, but we have some very serious situations that are happening around the world. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a very strong history and reputation of lending a hand and reaching a hand out to other parts of the world when they need assistance," he said.

"It's certainly something I'd give consideration to."

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