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Refugee Crisis: Should Canada be Doing More to Help?

By: Alex Nikotina

Published On: September 24, 2015

As the number of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria continues to grow, more people are raising concerns about safety and control: some are concerned with ensuring the safety of the refugees, others – about maintaining control of their country's borders.

Canadians take pride in being fair and compassionate. However the recent death of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian toddler who drowned while his family attempted to flee to Turkey have raised the question for Canadians of how much help we should provide, and whether we should be doing more.

Refugees at Budapest Keleti railway station

Refugees at Budapest Keleti railway station


The waves of refugees fleeing to Europe and Middle-Eastern countries represent the largest refugee crisis since World War II. The violence in Syria has claimed the lives of more than 220,000 people, thousands of whom were civilians. Given the ongoing conflict in Syria, it is unsurprising that more and more people are fleeing Syria and seeking asylum in other countries. However, Middle-Eastern and European countries are not able to quickly accommodate the continuous flow of refugees. Some European countries, like Germany and Croatia, were forced to start closing their borders, unable to cope with the thousands of refugees entering each day. Countries closer to Syria, such as Turkey and Lebanon, are even more overwhelmed with the amount of incoming refugees.

The need for monetary assistance and asylum for millions of people fleeing to different countries is enough to attract international attention, but it was the death of Alan Kurdi that sparked international outrage. Photograph’s of Alan's body laying lifeless on a Turkish beach illustrated the need for a unified global response to the refugee crisis. For Canada, the call for action was even louder due to initial news reports that Alan’s family was refused refugee status in Canada. Although it was later reported that Alan’s family had not applied for refugee status, the issue of providing humanitarian aid and shelter to the refugees remains a heated topic for Canadian citizens and the federal government.

Migrants in Hungary near the Serbian border

Migrants in Hungary near the Serbian border


Over the years, Canada has had a mixed response to refugees looking for asylum. There have been cases of accepting thousands of refugees at a time – for instance, protecting Hungarian refugees in 1956 and providing them free transport to Canada. On the other hand, there were also instances where Canada admitted the smallest number of people in times of crisis compared to other democratic countries (e.g. during the Holocaust).

Presently, the federal government has a set application process to help refugees claim residency in Canada. There are two main parts of the refugee protection program: the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program (for people applying from outside Canada) and the In-Canada Asylum Program, both of which have their own application procedures. After resettlement in Canada, refugees receive assistance and support from either the federal government or private sponsors. These regulations are there to ensure the security and health of Canadians while helping people in need.

However, the application process has received criticism due to its length and complexity. The current refugee application process and review can take one year or longer, with an average processing time of two years.

The media and public attention to the refugees' issue was so strong that Canada’s main political parties have moved immigration policy discussion to the forefront of their election campaigns. Currently, the federal government has confirmed a commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrians in the next year, and other political parties are also proposing changes to the immigration policies to ensure quick and efficient resettlement of the refugees.


The government's discussion of the accommodation of refugees would not have happened without public demand for emergency refugee measures. The fact that on September 2, Google search in Canada was dominated by the question “How to sponsor a Syrian” shows that Canadians desire to help people who are suffering in the conflict.

The opinion about how people should be helping varies. The biggest controversy lies in discussing the policies the government should be implementing and the number of refugees that Canada should be accepting. One perspective is that changing the refugee protection policies, even though they are lengthy, would be a threat to the country's security. By providing financial aid and following the existing regulation, Canada is assuring the quality of the application process while providing the safety for the refugees.

The other viewpoint is that Canada should be taking a more active role in helping the refugees obtain asylum. Speeding up the refugee application in times of adversity does not necessarily diminish the country's safety. Canada, it is argued, has the opportunities and resources to help more people, so it is the country's duty to extend a helping hand.


Concern Counterpoint
Speeding up the refugee admission process can potentially create security concerns for Canada Canada is known for its compassion and peacekeeping; therefore it is necessary to provide a faster refugee application system in times of adversity
Canada should not be focusing on the Syrian refugee issues alone Canada is doing less for Syria, compared to other countries in Middle-East and Europe
Financial aid could be a better way for Canadians to provide help Europe and Middle-East are not able to provide enough safe places to live for the seeking refugees
Increased number of refugees can create cultural and/or religious tension Canada has always been a country that embraces diversity and multiculturalism
Canada may not be able to provide enough resources to accommodate more refugees Canada is not using enough of their resources
People may be using the civil war in Syria as an excuse for migration and may not be eligible refugees Civilians in Syria continue to be persecuted and are entitled to protection


According to an EKOS poll, the majority of Canadians believe that providing humanitarian aid is the best way to help the refugees in Syria. When it comes to increasing the number of refugees in Canada, 36% believe that more than 10,000 people should be admitted into the country, while 25% say this number is too large, and 34% claim it's just enough. It is clear that the majority of the people want to make sure refugees have the opportunity to start over in Canada, but not everyone believes in increasing the numbers of refugees, or changing immigration policies.

UK-funded food vouchers are distributed to Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan, through the World Food Programme


The Canadian Council for Refugees and Lifeline Syria have suggested the following measures in their call for stronger government involvement in the resettlement of the refugees:

  • Ensure a more flexible application process while maintaining Canada's emphasis on safety and security. This can be done by providing a faster admission for the refugees with families in Canada (such as temporary resident permits), or by creating exempt Syrian cases for refugee status.
  • Make a commitment to increase the number of resettled refugees from Syria in addition to the ongoing resettlement of the refugees from other countries.
  • Eliminate the barriers to the private sponsorship. This could be done by such measures as matching the private sponsor's financial aid, or restoring full Interim Federal Health coverage.
  • Create a long-term action plan for resettlement of refugees beyond 2015, developed in consultation with the UNHCR.
  • Promote employment for the refugees by suspending or eliminating the temporary worker programs.
  • Provide transportation aid to make sure people have an opportunity to get to Canada.

It is not only the government that can help the refugees in need. Here are a few steps that you could personally take to make a difference:

  • Continue to spread awareness if you believe it is important. Learn more about what's happening, what has been done and what can be done. Keep yourself educated on the issue!
  • Become a private sponsor. There are opportunities to support refugee individuals and their families if you have that desire.
  • Make a donation! You can make a difference by helping organizations that are involved in the issue.



Border stand-off worsens as Croatia buses migrants to Hungary border – The Guardian

Aunt of Alan Kurdi, drowned Syrian boy, did not apply to sponsor family in Canada – CBC News

Brief history of Canada’s responses to refugees – Canadian Council for Refugees

“It’s Pretty Embarrassing,” Experts on Canada’s response to Syrian crisis – CTV News

Canada making right choice on refugee crisis – Toronto Sun

We Can Do Much More – Canada Immigration Blog

Canada shouldn't ‘overstate' risk of accepting Syrian refugees: War Child Canada founder – CTV News

$350 Million for Refugees and Immigration Returned to Government, Unspent – Ottawa Citizen

The EKOS poll: Could the refugee crisis be good for Harper? – iPolitics

Canadian Council for Refugees; Lifeline Syria; Government of Canada


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    View All Comments

  1. Great information Thank You very much!!

  2. indian visa says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful, well articulated Great information on – that is not intuitive

  3. Mark H says:

    Canadians show their solidarity with the refugees and that’s very commendable.

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