Wednesday 26 October 2016

Canada to speed up Syrian refugee applications

Published 20/09/2015 | 04:35

Stephen Harper's handling of the Syrian refugees crisis has become a major election issue in Canada
Stephen Harper's handling of the Syrian refugees crisis has become a major election issue in Canada

Canada will issue thousands more visas to Syrian refugees before the end of this year by accelerating the processing of their applications.

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government was trying to counter election-year criticism over its handling of the refugee crisis.

Canada will bring in 10,000 refugees by September 2016, 15 months ahead of schedule.

The government said it will speed the processing of Syrian refugees by no longer requiring them to prove their refugee status through the United Nations refugee agency.

Instead, Syrians will be presumed to be refugees by Canadian authorities who vet their applications.

Canada again declined to resettle more Syrian refugees. The country has long prided itself for opening its doors to asylum seekers, but the numbers have waned since Mr Harper took power almost 10 years ago.

His handling of the Syrian refugee crisis has become a key election issue for Canadians, who will decide if the prime minister earns a rare fourth term on October 19. Mr Harper is locked in a tight three-way race.

The government has endured criticism for taking in just 2,500 refugees since January 2014, especially after the photo of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, lying face down on a Turkish beach made headlines around the world two weeks ago.

More than 4 million Syrians have fled their country since the conflict erupted in 2011.

Several countries have announced they will take in thousands of more refugees since the dead toddler's photo became an unforgettable symbol of Syrians' desperation to escape the war that has ravaged their homeland.

Mr Harper's rivals have called on him to follow suit.

Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien has called his refusal a "cold-hearted reaction" to the Syrian crisis that has "shamed Canada in the eyes of Canadians and of the international community".

The Harper government announced in January it would accept 10,000 over three years and promised in August to accept an additional 10,000 over four years.

Chris Alexander, the minister of citizenship and immigration, said the government will allow families to sponsor those who have not yet received refugee status.

Mr Harper has emphasised the importance of screening refugee claimants in recent weeks.

The government will now expand staff in Canada who process applications and send more visa officers overseas.

In past decades, Canada quickly resettled vast numbers of refugees. It airlifted over 5,000 people from Kosovo in the 1990s, more than 5,000 from Uganda in 1972 and resettled 60,000 Vietnamese in 1979-80.

More than 1.2 million refugees have arrived in Canada since the Second World War, b ut the number has declined since Mr Harper became PM in 2006.

According to the United Nations, Canada has dropped from the fifth-highest refugee-receiving country in 2000 to 15th last year.

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