Alan Kurdi, a two-year-old Kurdish-Syrian boy, drowned alongside his family members in the Mediterranean on September 2, 2015. What struck humanity’s collective consciousness was the image of a lifeless Alan, face down on the shore, symbolizing what tragedy many refugees – including children – have met on their flight from terror.
The world vowed to do more. Many developed a greater compassion for refugees.
Canadians were particularly moved by this story, because the Kurdis were travelling to Canada when Alan died. The government soon introduced measures to enhance the refugee resettlement process, making it easier and faster for Syrian refugees to find safety in their new home.
A lot has changed in the past year. The new measures the government implemented have been helpful, and refugees now enjoy a more supportive environment. The Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) has been expanded to cover resettled refugees, protected persons, refugee claimants, victims of human trafficking, and those detained by the Canada Border Services Agency. Additional coverage will be offered, come April 2017, for refugees before their arrival in Canada. This is a positive turn from the 2012 cuts, which restricted IFHP coverage to certain refugee claimants. These changes are also expected to ease the financial burden private sponsors have faced over refugee claimants’ health care coverage.
Furthermore, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship John McCallum has worked to ensure increased government consultation with diverse stakeholders. The government has also promised a more seamless resettlement process for the second group of refugees expected before the end of 2016.
These changes have been good, but more is required.
We still need a multi-stakeholder collaborative approach that acknowledges churches’ roles in refugee sponsorship. Churchconnected Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs) have played a key historical role in Canada’s private sponsorship of refugees. They provide significant sponsorship and resettlement support, even amidst great difficulty. The government’s current loan repayment system and visa post cap policy are just some of the difficulties sponsors and refugees face. These policies stratify refugees based on “levels” of vulnerability, suggesting that some deserve quicker care and attention than others.
CPJ believes that the Canadian government has a responsibility to seek safety for those around the world who face oppression and injustice. This means the government has to do more to secure not just the physical safety of refugees, but also their social and economic safety upon resettlement. A just society will ensure that all refugees are considered equal, regardless of the seemingly varying levels of danger they may face.
Another concern with the resettlement process is that paperwork remains slow. The new Centralized Processing Office in Winnipeg has not been efficient in processing private sponsorship applications in the way local immigration offices were. Consequently, church-connected SAHs experience long waits and processing times after filing sponsorship applications. Canada’s resettlement process needs an overhaul to make it faster and more efficient. This will encourage church-based SAHs, and other groups, to continue with sponsorship arrangements.
As neighbours in our global community, we must not react only when a tragedy like Alan’s happens. Instead, we must continually acknowledge that these events happen more frequently than we see in the media. This should make us more proactive in our care for refugees. It should also enable us to better understand the often-obscured hurdles they encounter both on their journey to safety and after they arrive in their new home.
For Canada to flourish, we must have a deeper understanding of refugees’ challenges, and we must work together toward equitable support for all refugees.