December 10 was the 5-year jubilee of the first flight from Syria to Canada. The flight carried Syrian refugees under Canada’s 2015-16 Syrian refugee operation.
In November 2015, Canada started an aspiring effort. It was to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees within a period of a month. This initiative was mostly supported by Canadians.
Since it was an election issue the previous month when it was the polling time in the country in October 2015.
During the campaign, Justin Trudeau made a promise to welcome 25,000 Syrians by 2020 end. There was a shocking image of a three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi.
The image showed the lifeless body of the child washing to shore. This image had a grave effect on the minds of the Canadians.
Whether Canada should proceed with Operation Syria, was not the prime question. It was whether Trudeau’s deadline was achievable.
Trudeau was given a majority government by the Canadians. After becoming the Prime Minister, his government postponed the deadline to get enough time for Canada for the preparation and execution of the operation.
A hundred days later, on February 29, 2016, Canada achieved the goal. This achievement was a massive undertaking.
Civil servants at IRCC used to work 24 hours a day. There were many who volunteered to leave the comfort of their homes during the holiday season and travel to the Middle East in support of the operation.
Federal and provincial civil servants of Canada worked overtime. This was during the holiday season, into the New Year, and on weekends.
The top-level provincial and federal immigration public servants were busy in regular conference calls.
Once it was all done, several civil servants made the remark that achieving this goal was the highlight of their entire career.
There were some serious doubts about whether Canada would be able to complete its Syrian initiative within such a short time. However, there was no doubt about the nobility of the Canadians.
Canada has a long history of helping refugees. For example, they made a decision to remain on the sidelines during the Holocaust, which they regret to this day. Nonetheless, Canada has made some corrections after the end of the Second World War.
Canadian Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, had given a popular speech on May 1, 1947. He had articulated the nation’s post-war immigration goals. This was including the moral obligation of Canada to help refugees.
It is true that King was not a saint in terms of refugee assistance during the Holocaust. However, his speech did help to define the modern era of Canadian migration. During the decades following the War, the nations welcomed refugees from different parts of the world.
Ever since then, the Syrian refugee effort has gone down as one of the largest in the history of Canada. This was ranking right beside the resettlement of the Hungarian refugees during the 1950s. There was also resettlement of refugees from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam (the “boat people”) during the 1970s.
The boat people operation highlighted the nobility of Canadians. They utilized the new “private sponsorship of refugees program”. This was to help thousands develop a new and safe life in Canada.
The launch of the private sponsorship program was in 1978. The program enables Canadians to submit applications to the federal government to sponsor foreign refugees. It also lets them support the refugees financially and emotionally after setting foot in Canada.
In most part to the boat people effort, Canada remains the only nation to ever receive the Nansen Medal award by the UN. The people of Canada received this award in 1986. The Nansen Medal is the highest distinction by the UN to a country in recognition of the service towards refugees.
In the 1970s, there was a strong demand among Canadians to assist refugees. This touched the Canadian government during the Syrian refugee operation.
The Canadians’ demand to sponsor Syrians privately over exceeded the ability of their government to process applications.
John McCallum was the Canadian immigration minister during Operation Syria. He often used to joke in public that he was the only immigration minister in the entire world criticized for not welcoming sufficient refugees.
Since then, the country has welcomed around 45,000 Syrian refugees in total.
Reminders of the 5-Year Jubilee
- Canada’s provincial and federal governments can easily reach their immigration goals. This is possible if they put them in a sequence and devote sufficient resources. Often, both levels of government put the blame on capacity limitations to explain the flaw in the immigration system. For example, Covid-19 related challenges and slow processing times. Nonetheless, capacity is set by priorities. Once an issue is prioritized, like processing EE applications within six months or welcoming Syrians, the government of Canada is often able to achieve their immigration goals.
- Canada has a reputation for operating a practical immigration system that reportedly plunders the best from other nations. Nonetheless, there is a remarkable humanitarian angle to the Canadian immigration policy. Welcoming refugees is Canada’s one of the three prime immigration goals. The other two are reuniting families and strengthening the economy. Canada is a world leader in refugee assistance.
- Welcoming immigrants help Canada become a more vibrant nation. Apart from supporting the nation’s social vibrancy and economy, it also helps the Canadians to bring out their best. Religious communities, average citizens, non-profits, corporations, and governments all work as a team. They share the same goal of welcoming 25,000 Syrians in 100 days. Not too long ago, these former Syrian refugees will be right in front trying to help future fellow Syrians land safely in Canada and make long-term grants to the country’s society and economy.
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