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Study on the Steps Being Taken to Facilitate the Integration of Newly-Arrived Syrian Refugees and to Address the Challenges They are Facing

Fifth Report of Human Rights Committee and Request for Government Response Adopted

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Munson, seconded by the Honourable Senator Cordy:

That the fifth report, Finding Refuge in Canada: A Syrian Resettlement Story, of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, deposited with the Clerk of the Senate on Tuesday, December 6, 2016, be adopted and that, pursuant to rule 12-24(1), the Senate request a complete and detailed response from the government, with the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship being identified as minister responsible for responding to the report, in consultation with the Minister of National Revenue.

Hon. A. Raynell Andreychuk: Honourable senators, first, I am going to apologize for speaking twice today. I think I have more voice today than I will have tomorrow. I also promised the chair and the deputy chair that I will move forthwith on this report.

I rise to make a few remarks regarding the fifth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, Finding Refuge in Canada: A Syrian Resettlement Story.

Our committee chair, Senator Munson, and deputy chair, Senator Ataullahjan, expertly outlined the report's key findings earlier. They drew the Senate's attention to the fact that the report was a snapshot of some Syrian refugee experiences and their progress in establishing themselves here in Canada. The report also focused on the effectiveness of Canadian resources federally, provincially and locally in responding to the needs of incoming Syrian refugees.

Today, I wish to contribute some additional comments to our evolving discussion of Syrian refugee settlement in Canada. I would like to begin by acknowledging the work and dedication of all committee members who had their own expertise and their own experiences and engaged thoughtfully throughout this study.

As urban centres welcomed the largest number of Syrian refugees, our study targeted refugee experiences in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. Our study was completed by a fact-finding mission, which I believe drew attention to issues facing Syrian refugees in those cities, such as the high cost of housing, lack of employment opportunities and delays in accessing language training.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, there are over 350 Syrian refugee "welcoming communities" across the country, and this should be commended. The breadth of experiences and unique challenges faced by each of these communities fell far beyond the scope of our study. I would like to focus and bring the attention of senators to some additional issues facing Syrian refugees in other parts of Canada.

In August 2016, a study undertaken by the Rural Development Institute at Brandon University researched the experiences of Syrian refugees in five rural communities across Manitoba: Altona-Winkler-Morden-Carman, Steinbach, Dauphin, Portage la Prairie and Killarney. Respondents reported similar challenges to integration as those outlined in our committee report, including limited employment opportunities and affordable housing.

However, they also highlighted several unique challenges particular to their experience in rural communities. These included lack of public transportation, volunteer fatigue, feelings of isolation due to geographic location, and lack of religious and ethno-cultural diversity.

The experiences of Syrian refugees settling in rural areas may merit further study.

Small, rural communities are plagued by another challenge: low retention rates. In January 2017, the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council published a report which underscored low immigrant retention rates across the region. David Chaundy, author of the report stated:

Although our immigration numbers are rising, we're still losing close to half of them over a five-year period.

To combat this growing trend, local governments must be equipped with the necessary tools and policies required to provide viable economic opportunities for newcomers.

Furthermore, as evidenced in our committee report, refugee experiences fluctuate dramatically across different settlement streams. Largely due to advanced language proficiency and higher levels of education, integration is reportedly less challenging for privately sponsored refugees.

As reported in a Canadian Press interview from March 2017, Dawn Edlund, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of Operations at IRCC, stated that only 10 per cent of government-assisted refugees were employed. By contrast, she reported that over half of the privately-sponsored refugees had found employment. Our committee report reflects similar findings.

With the arrival of the so-called Month 13 and the conclusion of federal government support for refugees, a significant burden has been transferred to provincial and territorial governments. Provinces and territories home to larger numbers of government-assisted refugees may be disproportionately affected.

In Saskatchewan, for example, roughly 90 per cent of Syrian refugees admitted between November 4, 2015 and July 31, 2016 were part of the Government-Assisted Refugees Program. Within that same time frame, British Columbia welcomed approximately 72 per cent government-assisted refugees. By contrast, among those who arrived in Quebec, nearly 80 per cent were from the privately sponsored refugee program.

Based on statistics provided by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the Globe and Mail reported in January 2017 that the Quebec city of Trois-Rivières, as well as Moncton and Saint John, New Brunswick, welcomed the largest number of Syrian refugees on a per capita basis.

As Canada continues to move forward with an ambitious resettlement agenda, it remains critical to recognize these regional discrepancies and to account for these differences. We must account for these differences in the development of additional policy tools and strategies to assist local, provincial and territorial governments to overcome challenges and rectify barriers to integration across all regions.

I echo our committee's recommendation that the Government of Canada continue to provide appropriate resources to ensure the full integration of all Syrian refugees.

As of January 29, 2017, Canada had welcomed 40,081 Syrian refugees since the arrival of the first wave of refugees in November 2015. This marks a laudable response to the Syrian refugee crisis. However, international comparisons reveal that substantial work remains to be done to address the global refugee crisis.

The 2016 International Migration Outlook, published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, ranked Canada 15 out of 30 countries in comparison of individual asylum requests. Based on data collected between May 2015 and April 2016, a per capita comparison revealed that Canada ranked 19 out of 30 countries. Our efforts were overshadowed by those of Germany, Italy, Austria, France and several Scandinavian countries.

In response to these and other findings, the 2016 OECD report called for an increase in resettlement efforts by all members of the international community.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria proposed the following in a 2016 report launch:

It is clear we need a bold, comprehensive global response to mass displacement.

As the global refugee crisis intensifies, Canada's commitment to refugee resettlement must remain unwavering. While our attention has focused on responding to the Syrian refugee crisis, there remains an urgent and apparent need to respond to the needs of all refugee groups.

Our committee heard compelling testimony from witnesses who expressed grave concern over the preferential treatment of Syrian refugees. While additional government resources were committed to expediting the resettlement of Syrian refugees, they reported that the needs of other refugee groups may have been marginalized.

Honourable senators, millions of men, women and children continue to languish in refugee camps across Africa and elsewhere, in desperate need of resettlement assistance.

In a written brief submitted to the committee, the Canadian Council for Refugees stated:

Africa hosts fully a third of the refugees in need of resettlement, but they routinely wait as long as five years for Canada to process their application. Over 6,000 people in Africa are currently waiting for an answer from Canada.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Canada received the largest number of refugee claims from Nigeria in 2016.

At a total of 1,492 claims, this marked an 88 per cent increase in Nigerian refugee claims from 2015 to 2016. Similarly, refugee claims from Eritrea increased by 172 per cent, rising from 288 to 782 individual claims in 2016.

The plight of all refugees must be met in Canada with a fair and balanced approach.

Once again, I want to underscore the valuable work of the Senate Human Rights Committee in drawing attention to the experiences of Syrian refugees in Canada.

This report builds on the committee's previous work, namely in 2015, which was entitled Protecting a Generation: Are UNICEF and UNHCR Mandates Meeting the Needs of Syrian Children?

With an estimated 65.3 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, I trust that, on behalf of the Senate of Canada, the Human Rights Committee will continue to monitor these issues in an evolving global context and, I believe, do a service to the Canadian policy on refugees, to refugees and to the work of the Senate.