TORONTO (AP) — Canada’s Conservative government said Saturday that it will not accept more than its previously announced commitment of 10,000 Syrian refugees but will accelerate processing their applications to issue thousands more visas before the end of this year.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government said Canada will bring in these refugees by September 2016, 15 months ahead of schedule, by processing them without the previously required document by the UNCR to designate them as refugees.
Canada has long prided itself for opening its doors to asylum seekers, but the number it welcomes has waned since Harper took power almost 10 years ago.
Harper’s handling of Syrian refugees has become a top election issue for Canadians, who will decide if the prime minister earns a rare fourth term on October 19.
Harper’s government has endured criticism for taking in just 2,500 refugees since Jan. 2014, especially after the photo a three-year-old boy, Alan Kurdi, lying face down on a Turkish beach made headlines around the world two weeks ago. More than 4 million Syrians have fled their homeland since the conflict erupted in 2011.
Several countries have announced they’ll 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.
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.
“Today, by designating them differently, we are greatly expanding the potential for candidates and sponsorship with the private partners across Canada,” said Chris Alexander, the minister of citizenship and immigration, during a press conference.
Alexander also said Canada would deploy additional officers to resettle missions abroad. The government will also allow groups of five and families to sponsor those who have not yet received convention refugee status.
The cost of these measures, Alexander said, will be $25 million over two fiscal years.
Canada announced last Saturday that it will provide $100 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugee camps but has been steadfast in declining to resettle more refugees.
Former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien called it a “cold-hearted reaction” to the Syrian crisis that has “shamed Canada in the eyes of Canadians and of the international community.”
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.