"Refugees are people, not numbers on a scorecard"

Orient Net - National Post 2016-01-28 14:32:00

expressive image

Two weeks ago, the new Canadian Liberal government announced it had finally reached its refugee target score: 10,000 Syrian migrants by the middle of January. Yes, the goal had been revised — it was once 25,000 by Dec. 31 — but the Liberals conceded in November that it would be nearly impossible to bring that many people to Canada in such a short amount of time.

Among a number of logistical obstacles, the government discovered that some eligible refugees weren’t prepared to leave camps in Jordan or Lebanon that quickly, or didn’t want to go to Canada at all. In December, as few as five per cent of refugees contacted by the United Nations said they wanted to go to Canada.

 Nevertheless, public servants worked around the clock to meet the government’s arbitrary deadline of Dec. 31 and managed to reach the 10,000-refugee mark a couple of weeks later. But while it patted itself on the back local agencies scrambled to find housing for them in tight markets such as Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver. The task proved so difficult, some requested a temporary halt on the intake of new arrivals.

COSTI Immigrant Services, which has been tasked with finding homes for families in Toronto, says the re-housing process is taking twice as long as usual, due to the rapid influx, as well as the fact that families are larger than anticipated and require hard-to-find three- and four-bedroom units. In the interim, thousands of refugees have been put up in hotels at the public’s expense — some, such as those in Vancouver, for a month or more — stuck in bureaucratic limbo while they wait to get their kids into school and enroll in English-language classes.

Predictably, some are getting restless. According to one volunteer working with government-sponsored refugees in Toronto, many families feel “trapped” in hotels and some would prefer to be back at the camps in Lebanon and Jordan. 

This raises the question of what, exactly, refugees were told to expect of their arrival in Canada, especially in terms of accommodation in regions where a house with a yard has become a pipe dream, even for many middle-class Canadians. It also calls into question the narrative the Liberals sold Canadians about the urgency of its resettlement plans.

Certainly, some refugees were indeed desperate for the safety and security of a new life in Canada. Others, evidently, have come to regret their decisions to leave the camps. What does that say about the Liberals’ deadline-driven insistence that we needed to bring them here as fast as possible, damn the logistical concerns? And what does it say for the sagacity of the government’s ensuing target of another 15,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees by the end of February? Surely Canada’s settlement agencies could now provide ample evidence of the folly of an immigration plan based on arbitrary deadlines. Perhaps it’s time for the government of Canada to put the scorecard away.

Comments