Government creates emergency relief fund to aid Syrian crisis victims
Fund will match donations from Canadians up to $100M to provide for basic needs
International Development Minister Christian Paradis announced a Syrian emergency relief fund today that will match donations from Canadians up to $100 million.
The fund will assist conflict-affected people in Syria and neighbouring countries. Paradis told reporters the fund will be used to provide basic needs such as food, clothing and healthcare.
He said the government will match funds donated to registered Canadian charities, adding that this is "an opportunity to put a vehicle where Canadians will be able to channel their generosity."
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"The government will deal with [the] Red Cross, Red Crescent," Paradis said in Ottawa. "We want to deal with people on the ground who have the capacities to reach people the most in need."
The minister said the funds will go toward people in the region and in some transit countries that are eligible for official government development assistance, rather than those who've fled to Europe.
The emergency fund takes effect immediately and will be in place until Dec. 31, Paradis said.
Paradis also said the government is deploying more resources in Beirut and Amman, with more people on the ground to make sure refugee processing is accelerated, though he didn't elaborate on exactly how many officials are in place.
He added the backlog has been reduced by 50 per cent, but also did not specify precise numbers. Instead, he directed reporters to follow-up with the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
'Band-aid solution,' group says
Organizers with the activist group No One Is Illegal dismissed the move as a "band-aid solution."
"What we need is to immediately bring refugees and migrants to Canada," said Tings Chak, of the group's Toronto branch, in a statement.
The group is calling for emergency measures to bring in more Syrian refugees.
The New Democrats and Liberals welcomed the new funding, but also urged immediate action to speed up the arrival of Syrian refugees in Canada.
"We must not stop there. It is our duty to implement a concrete plan to help Syrian refugees now and over the years to come," Paul Dewar, the NDP's foreign affairs critic, said in a written statement.
"I think it's time to dig a little deeper and move a little faster," said Liberal MP Adam Vaughan during a news conference Saturday.
"It's time to live up to this country's proud, proud history of being a place of refuge, of safety. Canadians can do it but they need a partner in Ottawa."
Today's announcement is in addition to the $503.5 million in international humanitarian assistance funding in response to the Syria crisis Canada has pledged since January 2012.
The Conservatives are expected to announce further measures to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis in the coming days.
In an interview with CBC Radio's The House that aired earlier today, Defence Minister Jason Kenney said the Conservatives will unveil plans to expedite the resettlement of Syrian refugees to Canada.
High-profile Canadians take up the charge
The government has faced criticism over its tepid reaction to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighbouring countries. Canada has taken in about 1,000 Syrian refugees so far this year — just 188 of them government-sponsored — toward the latest target of 10,000 over three years.
Germany, meanwhile, has said it can take up to half a million Syrian refugees per year.
On Friday, a group of high-profile Canadians called on the government to take immediate action on the refugee crisis.
The group, which includes former immigration minister Ron Atkey, former NDP leader Ed Broadbent and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, made three recommendations:
- Send Canadian visa officers into the field immediately.
- Streamline the visa process to make it more effective and efficient.
- Work with the international community to convene an international conference (possibly in Geneva) to work on a ceasefire to the Syrian conflict.
Concurrent with Paradis's announcement in Ottawa, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who has been critical of the federal government's response to the Syria crisis, made her own announcement in Toronto of $10.5 million in funding to bring 10,000 more refugees to the province and to support Syrian relief efforts.
- An earlier version of this story said funding would go toward people in some transit countries that aren't eligible for official government development assistance. In fact, funds would go to people in countries that are eligible for government assistance.Sep 14, 2015 10:10 AM ET
With files from The Canadian Press