OTTAWA — While the photograph of a 3-year-old Syrian boy’s body quickly focused the world’s attention on the migrant crisis in the Middle East and Africa, it has taken on a particular resonance in Canada with the discovery that the boy’s family had been unable to obtain immigration visas.
The death of the boy, Aylan Kurdi, who drowned with his brother and mother off the coast of Turkey, has also become an emotional issue in the Canadian election.
Even before the plight of the Kurdi family flashed across social media, opposition politicians, along with advocacy and religious groups, had strongly criticized the refugee policies of Prime Minister Stephen J. Harper’s Conservative government.
In January, the government promised that it would accept 10,000 refugees from Syria over three years. But over the next several months, immigration officials and Chris Alexander, the citizenship and immigration minister, repeatedly declined to disclose how people had been admitted.
On Thursday the department said 1,074 Syrian refugees had settled in Canada as of Aug. 24.
“At the end of the 1970s and in the 1980s, Canada did an amazing job of taking in refugees,” said Alexandra Kotyk, project manager of Lifeline Syria, a refugee settlement group in Toronto. “I really think we’re not living up to our normal humanitarian performance now. The government seems to be leaving a lot of the responsibility to private groups.”
Ms. Kotyk said that it has never been precisely clear how many refugees the government itself would sponsor. But she said that her group understood that the government was counting on private sponsorships for about 60 percent of the total.
While no firm numbers are available, there seems to be an abundance of would-be sponsors. Yet over the past few months many of them have complained that the Ottawa government’s rules are frustrating their efforts.
Brian Dyck, the national migration and resettlement program director for the Mennonite Central Committee Canada, said that migrants’ claims often dragged on because of the complexity of those rules.
He added: “It seems like more resources in processing applications need to be put into place. In some places the backlog is many years, and people languish as they wait.”
Under Canada’s system, there are two broad forms of private sponsorship. Groups like the United Church of Canada, the Mennonite …Read More