Stephen Harper suggests Canada will do more to help Syrian refugees

The Conservatives, after facing continued criticism they are not doing enough to address the Syrian refugee crisis, are expected to announce within days some new ways Canada can help.

10,000 refugee pledge Tories made last month would add to earlier commitment to resettle 11,300

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper suggested Thursday that he may soon announce more help for Syrian refugees, amid an outpouring of support across Canada. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Conservatives, after continued criticism they are not doing enough to address the Syrian refugee crisis, are expected to announce within days some new ways Canada could help.

At a campaign stop in P.E.I., Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said he wasn't in a position to announce specific measures Thursday, but his government was "going to take some concrete steps to expedite the process" of resettling Syrian refugee families to Canada.

Campaign officials told CBC News new measures to speed up the process of bringing in Syrian refugees would be unveiled soon.

The government is expected to look at what targets can be reasonably achieved and how much of the process can be sped up by adding resources. That may also include lifting the requirement that refugees be privately sponsored and have proof of refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or a foreign state.

A number of Canadian organizations and church groups raising money to sponsor refugees have been frustrated by the time it can take — possibly years — to bring in Syrian families.

"We're also going to make sure we tap into that generosity that I think is very genuine across the country," Harper said.

Last month Harper promised that a re-elected Conservative government would admit 10,000 more Syrian and Iraqi refugees over four years. The Conservative campaign confirmed to CBC News Thursday those refugees would be in addition to the roughly 14,000 refugees Canada brings in per year on average from around the world.

In January, the government announced it was planning to resettle 10,000 Syrians by 2017, over and above an earlier commitment to bring in 1,300 by the end of 2014, but it was unclear if those were new openings or if they would be part of Canada's annual allotment.

Remi Lariviere, an immigration department spokesman, confirmed to CBC News Wednesday the additional Syrian refugees announced in January would not be new spaces. They will get a greater share of Canada's annual refugee commitment, at the expense of refugees from other places.

"As part of its multi-year commitments to different refugee populations around the world, the government of Canada has agreed to resettle 11,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2017, and 23,000 Iraqi refugees by the end of 2015," Lariviere said.

So far, 2,374 of those 11,300 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Canada.

As well, Canada plans to resettle:

  • 6,500 Bhutanese by 2015.

  • 900 Colombians out of Ecuador by 2017.

  • 2,500 Congolese out of Tanzania and Burundi by 2018.

  • 4,000 Eritreans out of Sudan and Ethiopia by 2019.

  • 5,000 refugees based in Turkey by 2018.

Increasing pressure

Harper has faced increasing pressure over the refugee issue, including from provincial and municipal leaders who have pledged money and support to do what they can to get more refugees into the country.

Syrian refugees sit outside their tents as they cover their face with masks during a sandstorm, in a refugee camp in the town of Bar Elias, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Four million Syrians have already fled the country, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (Bilal Hussein/Associated Press)

Provincial immigration ministers continued discussions about how to proceed during a conference call on Thursday, and called on the federal government to convene an "urgent" meeting on resettlement efforts, though that may have to wait until after the Oct. 19 election.

Harper has said the government will not airlift thousands of refugees from countries such as Syria and Iraq, where extremist organizations operate, without conducting proper security screening. He has said that efforts to bring in more refugees cannot come at the expense of Canada's security.

Four million Syrians have already fled the country, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which estimates that another 7.6 million have been displaced inside Syria.

Liberals, NDP would resettle more, faster

​​Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has said that Canada should resettle 25,000 refugees from Syria as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the NDP said it would get 10,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year and more than 46,000 government-sponsored refugees to Canada by 2019.

Both Liberals and the NDP have said their proposals are above the existing intake commitments.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair on Thursday called on the federal government to match donations made to registered Canadian charities involved in the Syrian refugee relief efforts.

"Where there's a will, there's a way. Mr. Harper keeps piling up the excuses for doing nothing," Mulcair told reporters at a campaign stop in Winnipeg.

"I am concerned about security, but it's not an excuse for inaction, that's the difference between Mr. Harper and myself," the NDP leader said.

With files from James Cudmore, Catherine Cullen and Hannah Thibedeau


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