Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Canada doubles target to help Syria refugees in war-torn country

Warns against expansion of ‘elite, anti-Muslim hate groups’ and calls on human rights organisations to defend refugees

Canada has doubled its target to resettle 40,000 refugees from the conflict in Afghanistan by the end of 2020.

The prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said the aid would come from more private sponsorships than the 20,000 initially announced. They would be Syrians but some refugees would arrive from elsewhere in Afghanistan.

The increased target, he said, was his government’s way of saying “love trumps hate”.

“Our government, and my government, has made refugees the cornerstone of our strategy,” Trudeau said. “This welcoming policy makes it crystal clear: refugees are welcome here and Canada will welcome them with open arms.”

Canada is pledging $2.6bn over three years to assist refugees and refugees in countries such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia. The money is also being targeted at putting pressure on political leaders in those countries to adopt more policies supportive of refugees.

Canada – which has been a global refugee destination for decades, especially for Quebecers fleeing religious persecution – said it would also look for further funds for international organisations such as the UN, Inter-Agency Standing Committee, World Food Programme and UNICEF.

Voters in 2015 had flocked to Trudeau, who promised to put Canada back on the world stage.

But the pledge to help refugees have come under attack from his arch rival, the interim Conservative leader, Rona Ambrose, who has claimed Trudeau’s government has “crossed its boundaries” in offering protections to asylum seekers crossing the border from the US.

On Monday Ambrose told reporters she had “major concerns” about the UNHCR’s plan to resettle Syrians in Canada given the country’s history of welcoming “a certain type of Syrian refugee”.

Julie Carmichael, Canada’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said the UNHCR would still need financial support “to build strong, stable, inclusive and more secure democracies”.

“We welcome and support this transition to a new approach,” she said.

She also criticised a press statement by the UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, who sought to “smear Canada”, using an unproven allegation of a barbaric sex abuse ring in government homes in Quebec.

The UNHCR’s press release, which was later retracted, was issued to coincide with the arrival of a caravan of hundreds of migrants fleeing violence in the northern city of Jalalabad. The people have gathered in a transit point in Kabul, hoping to head to safer areas.

The UN said the 75 mainly women and children living in the run-down school shelter in Kabul were “some of the most vulnerable” people in the country, “marooned in that precarious transit point”, and a “completely separate situation” from Canada.

Carmichael said: “The UNHCR statement used untruthful and unfair words to denigrate our government.”

Grandi was travelling through the Balkans, where thousands of people have risked their lives to reach the EU.

Speaking in Brussels, where he met European interior ministers in a bid to solve the migrant crisis, Grandi said the case for resettlement from Afghanistan was “stronger” than the case for those fleeing Syria.

“We have started a new initiative on Afghanistan, which is our first priority,” he said. “Overall there are over 15 million people fleeing Afghanistan and 10 million internally displaced.”

An estimated 14,700 Afghan refugees live in Canada. Thousands have returned from Europe.

Carmichael said her government was not relying on European or other countries to help.

“The government believes that, with or without a large increase from outside, it is up to every Canadian to bring their best side to open their hearts and open their homes,” she said.

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