The Syrian Refugee Crisis was one of the largest humanitarian disasters in half a century, therefore it’s no surprise that it was one of the biggest news stories last year. As local news outlets reported each country’s reaction to the ever-growing crisis, we were able to follow the different reactions of world leaders.
It was no understatement to say the crisis was major. Caught in the midst of horrific conflict, more than 11 million Syrian refugees were displaced: 7.5 million were forced from their homes in search of safety and security. More than 4 million – mostly women and children – fled the country entirely to neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. More than half of the country’s pre-war population was, and currently continues to be in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and care.
In New Zealand, the Government relented in the face of public backlash, stating that the refugee services will be “stretched” as 750 Syrians are resettled in New Zealand over the next two and a half years. New Zealand agreed to open the borders to an extra 600 people fleeing war in Syria. A further 150 Syrians would be welcomed as part of of an existing annual intake of 750 refugees.
The emergency package – in response to a tide of refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa – will cost around $50m. Prime Minister John Key says that’s about all the country could cope with, for the time being. But really, was there more that could be done?
In direct correlation, to the direction taken by the New Zealand Government, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (who had also made international headlines, for a variety of reasons including being one of the most handsome politicians to ever hold office) showed himself to be a compassionate man who is concerned with international issues.
This concern led to a campaign pledge promising a Canadian home for 25,000 refugees by the end of 2015. Some speculators say that his ideas and solutions on dealing with the crisis helped him get elected. But last, when the details of this plan were announced, Canadians realised that some promises are much more difficult to keep than make.
Canadian’s Liberal government announced that it had discussed and finalised the details of their Syrian refugee resettlement plan and how it would pan out in Canada.
Only 10,000 of the 25,000 promised refugees were expected to arrive in Canada by Dec. 31. The first 10,000 were due to arrive on Dec. 10. Another 15,000 are expected between the beginning of January and the end of February, which means that Trudeau’s plan has been pushed back by two months—a delay that actually works well for some Canadians who criticised and questioned whether his aggressive plan was realistic. Trudeau insists that the expanded timeline will help Canada to “get it right.”
Besides the government’s initiative, there are several private efforts being made to help resettle an expected additional 10,000 refugees.
Families across Canada have banded together to privately sponsor families. Part of the incentive was the Canadian government promising to match the financial contributions of private sponsors. The estimated cost of sponsoring a refugee is difficult to measure. But according to the CBC, one businessman is spending $1.5-million on 50 refugees. That works out to be about $35,000 per individual.
In addition to the cost of sponsorship, the families are also accepting the housing, educational and healthcare responsibilities. Typically, families offer what they can, like transportation or short-term housing, while others offer to take care of things like teaching English and helping families get familiar with their new environment.
With private sponsorships, the public concern virtually disappears. But the government’s plan is open to public scrutiny. And some Canadians haven’t held back in expressing their concern.
Part of the concern is the issue of housing. The extra 10,000 people set to enter into the province of Ontario alone by March raised concerns that there would not be enough places for refugees to stay. However, urban planners have studied the issue and reassured Canadians that getting hung up on numbers is not necessary. Maybe it’s something for New Zealanders to re-examine too?
The urban planners urge Canadians to remember that an influx of 10,000 refugees doesn’t necessarily mean an additional 10,000 housing units are required. Instead, many of these refugees will be families and will only require one roof. Breaking down the numbers even further, it is expected that only 2,000 housing units will be needed. Against the backdrop of 1.3 million rental units available throughout Ontario, the change will likely be unnoticeable.
The other opposition is the security issue. Some Canadians worry that the screening process will not be enough to ensure that they are not, in fact, accepting members of ISIS into Canada acting as refugees. This, too, has been addressed by Canadian Health and Public Safety Ministers Jane Philpott and Ralph Goodale.
Canadians have been promised that 100 percent of all screening will take place prior to the refugees even boarding the plane. This was announced after concerns arose that some screening would be done once the refugees landed in Canada, making it too late to forbid entry to anyone who posed a threat.
The government continues to promise that all security risks will be addressed and dealt with accordingly.
Beyond the delay, the fear, and the context of the crisis itself, Canada’s example is truly a heartwarming story of what can be done when people band together. Some families have gone so far as to look at housing in predominantly Muslim areas, where the refugees will have easy access to mosques, halal grocers, and people who speak Arabic.
Perhaps Canada’s example of how they have responded to the Syrian Refugee Crisis is one which New Zealand can look to as we decide what other measures are appropriate.