The conflict in Syria devolved from peaceful protests against the Assad regime in 2011 to a violent insurgency that has drawn in many other countries. What started as a civil war of an authoritarian government against its people has become the largest battlefield of Sunni-Shia sectarianism the world has ever seen. It has facilitated the rise of ISIS, with deep implications for the future stability of the Middle East and the spread of terrorism.
The Syrian conflict is arguably the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, with over a quarter million killed, roughly the same number wounded or missing, and half of Syria’s 22 million population displaced from their homes. Many of those uprooted are children who have been traumatized by war, robbed of an education, and forced to flee their homes.
By 2015, there were more than 4 million Syrians registered at refugee camps run by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The actual number of refugees is much higher since many did not register with the UN but tried to reach Europe to seek asylum.
In response to the crisis, the Government of Canada has committed to resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February 2016, with more coming throughout the year.
All refugees destined for Canada are selected by the UNHCR and are screened for potential security risks by both the UN and Canadian officials.
The vision is to distribute refugee families relatively evenly across the country. Municipalities and community groups are seen as essential partners in the plan to settle and successfully integrate refugees.
Like Operation Lifeline with the boat people 35 years ago, Canadians then as now had the opportunity to demonstrate their incredible leadership in directly assisting humanitarian efforts to save thousands of lives. The current Syrian refugee crisis is real and in many ways larger than the boat people. Governments in Canada and elsewhere can not solve this problem alone. Community sponsorship efforts are the key. Canadians are up to the challenge.
Hon. Ron Atkey
Minister of Immigration 1979-1980