Cabinet commits to 'quick and substantial help' for refugees but gives few details

Immigration Minister John McCallum said Thursday that he and the rest of the cabinet had a "very good discussion" about how to resettle 25,000 refugees in Canada and provide "quick and substantial help to some of the most distressed people on the planet" but would not give specifics.

Liberal plan to include 'quick and substantial help' to refugees, says Immigration Minister John McCallum

McCallum and Goodale discuss refugees

7 years ago
Duration 1:36
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum, and the Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale discuss timing and security matters surrounding Canada's pledge to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum said Thursday that he and the rest of the cabinet had a "very good discussion" about how to resettle 25,000 refugees in Canada and provide "quick and substantial help to some of the most distressed people on the planet."

But neither he nor other ministers gave specific details of how the Liberals plan to get the refugees to Canada before year's end or where they will house them once they arrive.

McCallum said more details would be forthcoming in the "near future."

"We won't have further details for some days," he said.

The Canadian Armed Forces are expected to play a crucial role in the refugee resettlement process. Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance attended Thursday's cabinet meeting.

Arriving on Parliament Hill, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan kept tight-lipped about the possibility of temporarily accommodating refugees at military bases and other facilities.

"Still working on it," he said.

It's expected refugees will be chosen from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and Canada's representative at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees says UN staff are trying to keep expectations realistic.

The Liberal cabinet met Thursday to discuss how to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees, some of whom are pictured on the Syrian-Turkish border above, to Canada by year's end. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty)

"Rumours are already going in the refugee populations that there's a large program, that Canadians are coming," said Furio De Angelis. "We have to explain, present it as it is, an extraordinary effort but not everyone is eligible."

There are 4.2 million people registered as refugees from the Syrian conflict, and the United Nations wants to resettle about a third.

The UN refugee agency, tasked with overseeing what's been called the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War — is actually very specific when it comes to selecting people for resettlement.

Their cases are assessed against a number of categories, including whether they're in immediate physical danger, are survivors of violence or torture, have medical needs or are a woman, child or adolescent at risk.

Youth could be deemed unlikely security risk

Those categories are applied against a person's current situation, not the one they left. So, for example, a female refugee from Syrian being detained in Lebanon and who is therefore at risk of being deported, could be a case that lands on a Canadian visa officer's desk.

But unlike usual procedures, where the cases are processed individually, this program will likely involve the batching together of groups and the simplification of paperwork. For example, the Canadian government could accept that no one under 18 is likely a major security risk and lessen the requirement to conduct detailed reviews of those files.

The focus is on choosing refugees from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

In Jordan, there are 629,152 registered Syrians, the majority of whom do not live in refugee camps. The population is roughly split 50-50 between male and female and more than half are under the age of 18. About 30 per cent of the population is identified as having a specific need that would make them eligible for resettlement.

In Lebanon, there are around 1.1 million registered Syrians and though the government has no official camps for them, some have crowded into camps originally set up for Palestinians. There are at least 1,500 children, nearly three-quarters of them Syrian, begging or working as street vendors, according to the UN.

Liberal plan focuses on logistics

In Turkey, there are 2.1 million registered Syrians, again split roughly 50-50 between male and female and about a third are children. Two-thirds of the youngsters aren't in school, according to one recent study by Human Rights Watch. Alan Kurdi, the child whose family had considered trying to reach Canada as they fled from Syria, died instead trying to reach Europe.

While the Liberal plan is focused on the logistics of how to get some of them here now, they are also thinking about the future.

Immigration Minister John McCallum highlighted this week that one member of the committee pulling together the plan is Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef.

"She is a minister who is actually a refugee herself," McCallum said. "We talked about the fact that 20 years from now we may have one of the Syrian refugees sitting around the cabinet table.

"That speaks to the kind of vision we have in this plan."


  • An earlier version of this story from The Canadian Press incorrectly said that Alan Kurdi, the child whose family had considered trying to reach Canada as they fled from Syria, died trying to reach Turkey. In fact, the family was trying to reach Europe.
    Nov 12, 2015 12:23 PM ET

With files from CBC News


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