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A Look At Canada's Bold Plan To Rapidly Resettle 25,000 Refugees

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 4/11/2015 Nick Robins-Early

Canada's newly sworn-in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged during his campaign that if elected, he would see that the nation resettled 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015. Now, after a surprisingly decisive victory that handed his Liberal Party a majority government last month, officials have maintained that vow will be met.

The ambitious goal raises big questions about how the nation will manage to transport, house and care for that large a number of people, in such a short span of time.

While the Canadian government is likely to unveil a more detailed plan soon, now that Trudeau and his cabinet have been officially sworn in, rights groups say that one important aspect of the campaign promise is that the refugees being resettled are government supported, rather than relying on private groups for their accommodation.  

Canada allows for private sponsors, often family members or aid groups, to apply to support refugees who have come to the country. The Liberal platform encourages that as an additional effort, but states that the 25,000 Syrians it aims to resettle will be government-sponsored. 

The change in policy is a significant shift from the outgoing conservative government of Stephen Harper, which executive director of NGO umbrella organization the Canadian Council for Refugees, Janet Dench, said overly relied on private aid for refugees. 

“We greatly welcome the commitment by the Liberals to bring in a substantial number of refugees, and the distinction that’s important to us is that it’s government assisted refugees,” Dench told The WorldPost.

“That’s one of the crucial parts of the announcement.”

"The previous government had a generic commitment to refugees which was a mix of government assisted and privately sponsored. That meant the more the private sponsors did, the less the government did," Dench said. 

Harper instructed immigration officials to halt the processing of UNHCR-vetted Syrian refugee asylum claims in order to conduct more rigorous security screenings, stagnating the resettlement effort. 

But even with a vastly more pro-refugee platform, one that includes a pledge to invest CA$100  million ($76 million) this year into refugee services, there are huge practical questions about how the Liberals may meet their goal.

“One of the immediate questions is that if you’re bringing in 25,000 where are they going to stay when they first arrive?” Dench said.

Under normal procedure, Dench said the Canadian government would contract aid organizations to meet with refugees upon arrival and assist them with basic needs of resettlement, including somewhere to stay. But the huge number of refugees that the nation aims to resettle so quickly will likely make that impossible

"Some of the organizations have reception centers, which obviously have somewhat limited capacity, so you can't expect them to accommodate 25,000 in the next couple months," Dench said. 

Canada has conducted rapid resettlements of people in the past, including taking in 5,000 people fleeing conflict from Kosovo in 1999. When the Kosovar refugees arrived in Canada, they temporarily stayed on military bases for six to eight weeks, before moving to more permanent residences.

Rights groups and Canadian media have speculated that Syrian refugees face a similar scenario, albeit with far more military bases involved. The Canadian forces are now urgently assessing just how many housing units they could possibly provide, the nation's Globe and Mail newspaper reports.

There is also the hurdle of how to get thousands of people to Canada in the first place. The government is reportedly considering chartering private planes along with military aircraft to fly the refugees, primarily from Lebanon, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Security screenings are another matter the government will have to address, and while Canada uses referrals from pre-vetted UNHCR-selected refugees, it also requires people to go through a complex system of medical examinations and paperwork. Immigration lawyers and rights groups say that such procedures would have to be expedited or worked around to meet the urgent influx.

The Liberal Party of Canada did not respond to The WorldPost's requests for comment on aspects of its resettlement plan.

Despite these serious hurdles and concerns from some refugee agencies surrounding the difficult logistical aspects of the aggressive timeframe, Dench said the government's change in attitude and signal of commitment to do more in the Syrian refugee crisis are a welcome change.

“The government understands that we need to make it an urgent response," Dench said.

“It’s not so much important whether it be before or after Dec. 31, but that it’s done on an urgent schedule; that it not be business as usual -- taking the months and even years that our program has gotten bogged down in."

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