Letters: Refugee system must be restored

Canada’s refugee sponsorship program has been decimated by the Conservative government.

Dear Editor:

 

Canada’s refugee sponsorship program has been decimated by the Conservative government. What was once an effective, responsive and compassionate system is broken.

Ironically, it was a Progressive Conservative government that established Canada’s unique Private Sponsorship of Refugees program in response to the Boat People crisis of 1979.

The result? Canadians sponsored 35,000 refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in just the first two years of the program. In 1986, the United Nations awarded the Nansen Medal to “the people of Canada” for their service to refugees — the only time the award has gone to an entire country.

There are many other examples of quick and decisive action by previous federal governments. In 1999, for instance, Canada took extraordinary measures to evacuate 5,500 Kosovar refugees from the former Yugoslavia.

Here in the Kootenays, people have responded with exceptional generosity over the past 30 years, sponsoring and resettling well over 200 refugees in Kimberley, Cranbrook, Wasa, Invermere, Fairmont, Fernie, Sparwood, Golden, Creston, Nelson, Rossland, Trail and

Castlegar.

The Syrian crisis has reminded us there are millions of refugees around the world waiting for our help. Many have been languishing in refugee camps for decades — the average stay is 17 years! Some of these people could be living here as our neighbours, contributing to our economy and sharing the life we are so privileged to enjoy.

So, for the benefit of whichever political party forms our next government — and in the sincere hope that Canada will restore its former place in the world — we suggest the following very doable changes to current Conservative policy and regulation.

• Eliminate barriers to private sponsorship, including immediate removal of all caps and limits to the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program.

• Waive the refugee documentation requirement for Groups of Five sponsorships.

• Fast-track Syrian refugees who have family in Canada.

• Restore full Interim Federal Health coverage for refugees resettled in Canada.

• Maintain priority for refugees who have been in camps for more than 10 years.

 

Susan Bond, Kimberley

Shauna Jimenez, Wasa (East Kootenay Friends of Burma)

Arné Sahlen, Kimberley (Cambodia Support Group)

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