Syrians refugees at the Zaatari refugee camp Nov. 1 wait to register their names to return to their homeland in Syria. Canada’s new Liberal government has announced the launch of an ambitious initiative to fulfill a campaign promise and rescue 25,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas. CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters

Liberals create powerhouse cabinet committee, allocate $100 million to resettle refugees

  • November 9, 2015

OTTAWA - Canada’s new Liberal government has announced the launch of an ambitious initiative to fulfill a campaign promise and rescue 25,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas.

On Nov. 9 the new Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum announced the creation of powerhouse cabinet committee backed by $100-million in funding to identify, screen and transport Syrian refugees to Canada.

“The committee’s function is to make this work, which involves getting things moving very, very fast and very, very competently," he said.
Chaired by Health Minister Jane Philpott, the cabinet committee also includes the ministers of public safety, foreign affairs, international development, defence, treasury board, heritage and democratic institutions. McCallum said the committee will focus on identifying and relocating refugees, as well as ensuring their "resettlement is carried out in a humane and expeditious way,”  

“And on that point, I would say the participation of provincial governments, many of whom have expressed great enthusiasm, will be key because provincial governments play a major role in the resettlement and the integration of newcomers coming to Canada.”

Many Catholic dioceses, parishes and groups have been preparing to welcome refugees, but McCallum promised these 25,000 will be welcomed to Canada through “immediate government sponsorship” and he pledged to work with “private sponsors to accept even more.”

“This is exceptional news,” said Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) Canada national secretary Carl Hétu. “In order to be efficient in a time of crisis, this is how the government has to do it.”

Hétu said the project to receive the refugees is both necessary and doable.

“Already since September, many cities, many provinces many churches and Catholic dioceses have already expressed the desire and are organizing to welcome refugees spread over all the country,” he said. “Twenty-five thousand is not that big.”

The Conservative policy was to bring in refugees predominantly through private sponsorship. That meant about 75 per cent of refugees have relied on parishes and other groups to develop welcoming committees, raise funds, find apartments and help  procure healthcare, Hetu said.

 “That takes time.”

However, many groups started preparing some time ago and are ready to receive families, he said.

Many refugees, including many Syrian Christians, have already been cleared.

“In Lebanon, I know of at least 1,500 members of the Armenian Catholic and Apostolic Church from Syria," Hetu said. "They all have their papers and are ready to come here.”

Hétu hopes the Liberal government will recognize the additional plight of Christians and other religious minorities who are caught in the Syrian conflict. While all religious groups suffer from war and need assistance, Christians, Yazidis and others suffer persecution in addition, he said.

“The government would make a mistake to ignore religion in this age,” he said, adding he hopes that at the very least Christians will be brought in at levels at least proportional to their presence in the Syrian population, about 10 per cent.

McCallum also announced that the government will restore the full health coverage to refugees and refugee claimants; invest $100 million to increase refugee processing, sponsorship and settlement services; and immediately provide a new $100 million contribution to support relief efforts in Syria and surrounding countries.

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