VANCOUVER (IPS) — Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Diane Finley, announced this week that Canada will more than double the number of refugees it receives this year from Iraq, accepting 1,800 to 2,000 refugees, up from 900 in 2007.
The majority are currently displaced refugees in Syria and Jordan.
Canada will also be increasing its resettlement target to 3,300 people this year, a 54-percent increase over 2007. Citizenship and Immigration Canada will be allocating almost 33 percent of their global settlement places to Iraqi and other refugees displaced by the war.
Applications referred to Canada by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and by the private sponsorship community will be taken into consideration.
According to the UNHCR, more than two million Iraqis have been displaced to neighboring countries.
Only 19 countries in the world accept refugees. Canada welcomes about 10 percent of the 100,000 refugees who are relocated annually, according to UNHCR.
Deborah Campbell, a Canadian freelance journalist who visited the Iraqi refugee camps in Syria last year, told IPS, “The U.S. troop surge is potentially a coincidence, but the policy change is more likely due to the fact that there is such an incredible amount of refugees from the last five years from Iraq. Many couldn’t return back and have lost most of what they had. There are a lot of people in dire straits.”
“This is a good first step for Canada, but during Vietnam, they let in 100,000 people in to Canada. More needs to be done,” she added.
Campbell also observed that Sweden, a country with a population of nine million, has taken in more than 100,000 Iraqi refugees since the U.S. invasion in March 2003.
Karen Shadd, a spokesperson with the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, told IPS, “The policy change is a response to a request by the UNHCR. It is not a new effort, but builds on a humanitarian tradition in Canada to welcome refugees. Over 3,000 Iraqi refugees have been settled in to Canada between 2002 and 2006. This will alleviate more suffering. We are responding to the needs of the international community.”
But critics view the government’s policy changes more skeptically.
Harsha Walia, a spokesperson for No One Is Illegal in Vancouver, an immigration and refugee rights advocacy group, told IPS, “The recent proposal is quite similar to a few years ago when the immigration minister made an announcement about Afghani refugees. It’s clear that the government coopts the agenda with this type of symbolic gesture. It distorts what they are doing militarily abroad in places like Afghanistan.”
“The government has introduced significant changes that will make it harder for immigrants to come to Canada, and are increasing temporary foreign workers that are far more significant than they are touting,” she said.
Eighty-two Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan in the NATO-led mission, mostly in the Kandahar region. The Canadian minority government recently voted to extend the mission until 2011 with support from the Conservative and Liberal parties. The move was opposed by the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP.
Hadani Ditmars, journalist and author of the book, “Dancing in the No-Fly Zone: A Woman’s Journey through Iraq,” told IPS, “I think it’s appropriate that Canada as a place that promotes human rights should attempt to deal with the fallout from conflict zones such as Iraq.”
“We’re talking about a life and death situation here for many people,”she said. “Iraq was a country with higher literacy rates than in the West. People forget that Iraqis are from an educated, secular multi-ethnic state. They have a highly developed culture and values which would have resonance in Canadian society. When you look at Sweden’s example, there is the irony with the U.S. that they were taking in more refugees when they were propping up Saddam’s regime. All of these countries can do more and should do more.’
Canada decided not to send troops to Iraq despite heavy pressure from the United States and Britain. The Canadian decision led to a high-profile falling out with then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and U.S. President George W. Bush. Current Prime Minister Stephen Harper is viewed as an ally of the U.S. president.