Nova Scotia

Syrian refugees should be accepted to Canada: immigration group

The Immigration Services Association of Nova Scotia is urging the Canadian government to immediately increase the numbers of Syrian refugees it accepts.

Syrians should be issued temporary Canadian permits, as Kosovars and Vietnamese were

Alan Kurdi and his older brother Galib, seen in an undated family photo, drowned along with their mother trying to escape Syria. (Tima Kurdi/Canadian Press)

The pictures of drowned children broke our hearts and brought home the plight of Syrians desperate to escape the crushing violence in their war-torn country, leaving many Canadians to ask what they can do to help with the refugee crisis.

Gerry Mills, operations director for the Immigration Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) says the Canadian government must open its doors to larger numbers of Syrian refugees in the same way the country responded to the Kosovo and Vietnamese refugee crises.

"We know that (Immigration) Minister Alexander has gone back to Ottawa today. We're hoping he is going to be announcing a different response from the federal government," Mills said Thursday.

Grassroots sponsorship, from individuals, families and groups, is a time-honoured method of helping to bringing refugees to Canada but it takes too long, she said.

Sponsorship too lengthy

"Right now, the process is so lengthy that it can take a year or two for that to happen. What we are hoping is going to happen is that process is going to be sped up and then we can appeal to community members to help. We're waiting for that to take place right now," said Mills.

The immigrant services group is hopeful there will be an announcement from Ottawa very soon.

Abdullah Kurdi, 40, father of Syrian boys Aylan, 3, and Galip, 5, who were washed up drowned on a beach near Turkish resort of Bodrum on Wednesday, cries as he waits for the delivery of their bodies outside a morgue in Mugla, Turkey, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (Mehmet Can Meral/Associated Press)

"What we would also like to see is the federal government sponsoring refugees, not just community groups. I think we, as a country, we want our government to take a lead in this. I think community groups can play a significant role, but the federal government needs to lead this by example," Mills said.

"They sponsor right now 200 (refugees in total) into the province of Nova Scotia. We want to see that significantly changed."

The association is also urging the federal government to reach out as it did in past refugee crises, evacuating thousands of Kosovars in 1999 and Vietnamese in 1979-1980, and issuing temporary permits for them to stay in the country.

'We can do better'

"We need a response, we need action. We can do better than this. We are better than this as a country. We want the federal government to lead this," Mills said.

International aid organizations, such as The Red Cross, Oxfam, World Vision and The United Nations Refugee Agency , are also asking for donations to help Syrians fleeing the conflict, now in its fifth year.

People in the province can also donate to the cause via ISANS' website, Mills said.

A paramilitary police officer carries the lifeless body of a migrant child after a number of migrants died and a smaller number were reported missing after boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized, near the Turkish resort of Bodrum early Wednesday. (DHA/Associated Press)

"We have a donate button on our website. You can actually identify that it is to the refugee emergency fund," she said.

The Canadian Council of Churches also favours sponsorship of Syrian refugees, president Alyson Barnett-Cowan said.

Churches under the national umbrella organization are known for providing aid that way, she said.

She advised individuals who are eager to help out to contact regional dioceses to inquire about opportunities, as well as the Syrian Orthodox Church.

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