Accommodating Syrian Refugees' Legal and Other Needs.

Author:Shireen, Hasna

The Syrian Crisis

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has recognized the Syrian refugee crisis as the world's single largest refugee crisis for almost a quarter of a century under its mandate. As of March 2017, the UNHCR reports that 6.3 million Syrians have fled their homes and remain trapped in Syria. 4.9 million Syrians have sought refuge in countries outside of Syria. The vast majority of Syrian refugees who have sought refuge in other countries have fled to surrounding countries and include with corresponding numbers: Lebanon (986,942), Jordan (666,113), Egypt (128,956), Iraq (249,641) and Turkey (3,589,384). In addition to these neighboring countries, Europe has received a large number of Syrian refugees (i.e., between the periods of April 2011 to October 2017, Europe received 996,204 asylum applications from Syrian refugees).

Recent Canadian Measures to Address the Syrian Refugee Crisis

In response to Syria's civil war and the resulting refugee crisis, the Canadian government committed to resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees between November 4, 2015 and February 29, 2016, which was known as the #WelcomeRefugees initiative. Canada's commitment under this initiative was to be completed under strict timelines. Canada successfully delivered upon this commitment on February 29, 2016. Accordingly, between 2015-2016, Canada welcomed its highest number of refugees since the 1980s. As of January 2017, 40,081 Syrian refugees have been resettled into Canada under the #WelcomeRefugees initiative.

According to the Alberta Government, Alberta has historically welcomed 10% of Canada's immigrant population. In the Government of Canada's recent Syrian refugee initiative, according to the Alberta Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies (AAISA), Alberta, Ontario and Quebec lead the country in the number of Syrian refugees resettled provincially. In particular, during the periods of January 2015 to September 2016, Alberta resettled 7,415 Syrian refugees.

Canada's International and National Obligations to Refugees

Canada signed the 1951 United Nations (UN) Convention on the Status of Refugees on 4th June 1969 (Convention). Canada recognized its obligations for refugee protection not merely as a humanitarian gesture but also a legal requirement as a signatory state of the Convention. The country's national obligation to ensure refugee resettlement is protected under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, SC 2001, c 27.

Refugees are different from immigrants because they are forced to flee their homes and do not choose to immigrate. Unfortunately, until 1976, Canada treated refugee claims in a similar manner to other immigration claims. The Immigration Act 1976 introduced the new refugee class and distinguished refugee claimants from other immigration applicants and also recognized refugee resettlement as a legal right. Judicial interventions further acknowledged rights of refugees. In its landmark decision of Singh v Minister of Employment and Immigration, 1985 SCC 65, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) confirmed the availability of the basic rights for the refugee claimants under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Recently in Kanthasamy v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2015 SCC 61, the Supreme Court extended the scope and definition of "humanitarian and compassionate grounds" to include the best interests of a child directly affected under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, SC 2001, c 27.

The Legal System in Canada to Support its Obligations to Refugees

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