The refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East continues to worsen as thousands are being forced to flee political upheaval and the intensifying violence at a rate unseen since World War Two. As part of his election pledge to Canadians, Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberal government have promised to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada from the Middle East by the end of 2015. While this pledge may be a measure of how generous and welcoming Canadians are, there are still many outstanding logistical questions regarding how the government plans to transport, accommodate, and settle such a large number of refugees in such a short period of time.
This may in fact be the first high-profile project that the Trudeau Liberals have embarked upon and, in order to help expedite the process, an ad-hoc committee made up of nine cabinet members has been created. Additionally, this plan is one that involves a large number of high-profile federal departments and new ministers keen on making their mark within them. With such a short time span and capacity issues, Canadians have yet to see if this goal is attainable or whether this logistical undertaking proves to be too much, too quick.
On its own, the transportation aspect from the Middle East, specifically, from Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan to Canada will be a massive operation. While the public, and likely the government, is still unsure as to what exactly this operation might look like, the Minister of Immigration, John McCallum has declared that “Every option is on the table. Whatever works. Whatever is cost effective. Whatever will get them here safely and quickly.”
A plan, leaked by SiriusXM’s Everything Is Political, states the intention for the government to bring in 1,000 refugees per day, presumably using a combination of commercial and military aircraft and ships. This portion of the resettlement plan, in conjunction with the self-imposed time crunch, may be the high-profile public indicator from which the Liberal government can claim “mission accomplished”. Perhaps ironically, once transported to Canada, the majority of the endeavour will have yet to begin.
Likely, most of the difficulty with this plan lies with the uncertainty involving where and how the refugees will be temporarily housed. Other than Minister McCallum mentioning that up to 12,000 refugees can be accommodated in military bases, it has been asserted that all other options are being considered, including docked cruise ships.
While the Liberals have vowed to reverse cuts to refugee healthcare imposed by the previous Conservative government, the changes in the program has yet to take place, and there are concerns that the program will not be ready in time for the intake of refugees. The government sponsored refugees are thought to be covered but it is unknown whether private sponsored refugees will have access to the same level of care, as they are seemingly now part of the 25,000. On top of all this, there has been very little discussion as to what types of transition programs and assistance will be available in the long-run for these refugees looking to start a new life in Canada.
The recent attacks in Paris have renewed calls to ensure that the screening process responsible for allowing refugees into Canada is not lost in the urgency of the resettlement plan. There is a three step approach to screening to which Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has acknowledged “logistical challenges,” but promises that security and health screening will not be compromised.
Not only have the Conservatives advocated that the refugees be resettled in a “secure manner,” there have been some opposition from the provinces as well. Recently, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has written an open letter to the Prime Minister asking that the program be suspended due to concerns over security. Furthermore, Quebec’s Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil has called Trudeau’s plan unrealistic citing the need to be vigilant due to security concerns and the lack of federal funding necessary for Quebec to resettle the extra refugees.
Thus far, the plan to resettle 25,000 refugees to Canada has yet to take cohesive shape and many questions are left to be answered. As the Liberals intend on unveiling their plan in the coming week, the difference in this government’s multi-departmental approach and ambition towards engaging and aiding the international community is becoming increasingly apparent. Whether Trudeau’s pledge for “real change” can translate into real action has yet to be determined, however, this plan will most certainly test the resolve of many newly appointed cabinet ministers, and ultimately, Trudeau himself.
Mathieu Belanger is an M.A. candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs specializing in Intelligence and National Security. He completed a B.A. in Political Studies from the University of Manitoba.
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