Justin Trudeau urged to take action on Syrian refugees

As asylum seekers continue to stream into Europe, refugee advocates in Canada are urging the incoming Liberal government to take immediate action on the party's pledge to accept 25,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq by the end of the year.

Canadian Council for Refugees calls on the prime minister-designate to take immediate action

Volunteers care for an exhausted woman on Monday after she arrived with other refugees in a dinghy from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. (Santi Palacios/Associated Press)

As asylum seekers continue to stream into Europe, refugee advocates in Canada are urging the incoming Liberal government to take immediate action on Syrian refugees and other migrants.

Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau promised during the election campaign that Canada would accept 25,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq by the end of the year.

"We understand that achieving this vision will require substantial work over the longer term and will necessarily involve legislative change," said the Canadian Council for Refugees in an open letter to Trudeau on Monday.

"There are also some immediate actions that your government could undertake in the short term." said the group, which listed nearly a dozen initiatives the new government could take to "make an enormous difference to significant numbers of people."

Now that the Liberals have won, a number of refugee advocates are waiting to see whether Trudeau's Liberals can make good on one of its most ambitious election pledges.

"Well, it is not that realistic. In the sense, I don't think they can do 25,000 by the end of the year," said Peter Showler, the former chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada and an expert in refugee law at the University of Ottawa.

Showler is hopeful Trudeau will make good on his promise. Whether that happens by Dec. 31 is less important, he said in an interview with CBC News on Monday.

"As long as it happens by the end of January or February, the important thing is that they're getting underway."

Naomi Alboim, the former deputy minister of immigration for the province of Ontario, said the timeline the Liberals set for themselves is too tight.

"I think the number is a really good number, I think the time frame is an arbitrary one. I'd much rather see this done well, than done to meet an arbitrary timeline," said Alboim during an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

"I think we just have a few weeks before the end of December, and I think that's probably too little time to bring in 25,000 refugees," she told host Rosemary Barton.

Refugee resettlement promise

7 years ago
Duration 7:37
Former Ontario Deputy Minister of Immigration, Naomi Alboim, discusses the Liberal promise to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada by the end of the year

Open letter to Trudeau

Groups that work with refugees say that to bring in 25,000 Syrians quickly, the government would likely have to charter aircraft and perhaps even open up military bases to house newcomers, as Canada did during the Kosovo crisis in 1999.

To alleviate the strain, the Canadian Council for Refugees said in its open letter to Trudeau, the government could target individuals who already have family in Canada.

"We know that there are many Canadians of Syrian origin who are in a state of great anguish because they have family members who are calling them and telling them about the desperate situations they're in," said Janet Dench, the group's executive director, in an interview with CBC News.

In a statement, the Syrian Canadian Council (SCC) encouraged the incoming government to admit more Syrians with family already in Canada. 

"Family-linked admissions would also benefit vulnerable Syrians who are often internally displaced and are not eligible to private sponsorship or the government's refugee resettlement program," it wrote, echoing calls for a family reunification program like the one offered during the crisis in Kosovo in 1999.

The SCC also asked the government not to cap private refugee sponsorships for Syrians.

Trudeau has said he would consider an airlift to bring Syrian refugees to Canada.

Since the election, the Liberals have said little about their plans, though federal and provincial officials are scheduled to speak tomorrow about the refugee crisis.

In an interview broadcast over the weekend, Trudeau stuck by his election pledge, saying he's told officials to get cracking on the refugee issue right away.

On Tuesday, federal and provincial immigration officials have a regularly-scheduled meeting that provides an opportunity for each jurisdiction to update counterparts on efforts to alleviate the refugee crisis. 

Refugees from Syria and Iraq disembark on the Greek island of Lesbos after arriving with 120 other refugees on a wooden boat from the Turkish coast on Monday. (Santi Palacios/Associated Press)

With files from CBC's Susana Mas


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