Canada’s conservative government is to speed up the processing of applications from Syrian and Iraqi asylum seekers. The move comes after opposition party criticism ahead of elections next month.
The conservative government said on Saturday it will designate people who have fled from Syria and Iraq as “prima facie” refugees, rather than wait for the United Nations agency for refugees to formally process them.
“Today, by designating them differently, we are greatly expanding the potential for candidates and sponsorship with the private partners across Canada,” Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander (photo) said on Saturday during a press conference.
Groups of five and families are to be allowed to sponsor asylum seekers who have not yet received convention refugee status. Alexander said, “These measures will ensure that thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees will have reached Canada by the end of 2015.”
No extra applications
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government had come under fire – especially in campaigning for October 19 elections – for taking in only 2,500 refugees since January of last year.
The number of refugees to be accepted is not to be increased. “Our existing commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrians will be complete a full 15 months earlier than originally anticipated,” Alexander added. The number of asylum seekers accepted into Canada has decreased under Harper’s government over the last ten years.
The government said in January it would accept 10,000 refugees over three years and in August said it would accept an additional 10,000 over four years.
More immigration officials are to be deployed to handle applications. The government will also take steps to facilitate private sponsorship and make sure applications from Syrians and Iraqis are processed within six months. The cost of the measures would be $25 million (16.7 million euros) over two years.
Canada is also to provide $100 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugee camps.
Harper is seeking a rare fourth term as prime minister in the elections next month. His government’s record on asylum seekers came under intense scrutiny after it was found the aunt of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who died on a beach in Turkey, had spent months applying for refugee status. Tima Kurdi lives on Canada’s west coast.
A recent poll showed just under half of Canadians were ready to accept more than 30,000 Syrian refugees.
Former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien called the government’s reaction to the Syrian crisis “cold-hearted.” He said the policy had “shamed Canada in the eyes of Canadians and of the international community.”
The center-left opposition Liberals and New Democrats have pledged to do more to accept additional refugees from the war in Syria if they win next month’s elections.