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Timeline: Canada and the Syrian refugee crisis

A look at how Canada responded to the Syrian refugee crisis over time


 
DEREK, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 13:  Yazidi refugees celebrate news of the liberation of their homeland of Sinjar from ISIL extremists, while at a refugee camp on November 13, 2015 in Derek, Rojava, Syria. Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq say they have retaken Sinjar, with the help of airstrikes from U.S. led coalition warplanes. The Islamic State captured Sinjar in August 2014, killing many and sexually enslaving thousands of Yazidi women.  (John Moore/Getty Images)

Yazidi refugees celebrate news of the liberation of their homeland of Sinjar from ISIL extremists, while at a refugee camp on November 13, 2015 in Derek, Rojava, Syria. (John Moore, Getty Images)

OTTAWA — In 2011, internal conflict erupted in Syria that would later escalate into a full-blown civil war that rages on to this day, now complicated by the arrival of Islamic militants from neighbouring Iraq.

Since the start, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called on countries to help resettle some of the most vulnerable Syrians who can never return home, a call that grew louder as the crisis has escalated.

Here’s a look at how Canada responded over time.

2012

Canada closes its embassy in Damascus, a move that would come to have major repercussions for refugee resettlement out of the Middle East as that visa post was handling the majority of the files for refugees from other countries who had sought temporary safety in Syria. Those files were then transferred to nearby countries, leaving visa officers scrambling to handle them and the start of a surge in Syrian refugee applications.

By the end of 2012, the UNHCR had registered close to half a million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.

Syrian Canadians call on Canada to do more to support the refugees, including speeding up family reunification programs and opening the doors to more refugees, but the government said without an official request from the UN for resettlement, it would not act.

2013

March

The number of people registered as refugees from Syria or being assisted by the UN hits one million.

June

The UN makes its first formal request to member countries to assist in refugee resettlement, asking for 30,000 spaces by the end of 2014.

July

The Harper Conservatives promise to admit 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014, with the majority sponsored by private groups. The 200 spots available to government-assisted refugees are not new refugee spaces _ the Conservatives choose to allocate the 200 they set aside each year for the Syrian program.

2014

January

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits a refugee camp in Jordan, one of the main host countries for Syrians. He announces $150 million in humanitarian aid; over the course of the conflict Canada has been one of the lead financial donors for relief efforts in the Middle East and North Africa. By this point, some $630 million has been committed.

February

The UN High Commissioner makes a new request: an additional 100,000 places for Syrian refugees by 2016. Canada says it is reviewing its options.

March

Conservative Immigration Minister Chris Alexander admits that fewer than 200 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since the July 2013 promise, saying the UNHCR was slow passing on referrals.

December

By the end of the month, just over 1,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada, meaning the government missed its deadline.

2015

January

The Conservative government commits to allowing 10,000 more Syrian refugees in by 2018, most through the private sponsorship program. The focus is to be on religious minorities.

March

The government finally meets its July 2013 promise to resettle 1,300 people, achieving it by increasing the number of government-assisted refugees.

June

The Conservatives order an audit of the government-assisted refugees coming out of Syria, citing security concerns. The review identifies no problems but delays the processing of those files for several weeks.

August

The Conservatives pledge that if re-elected, they will allow a further 10,000 Syrians in over the next four years, continuing a focus on those being persecuted because of religion.

September

Three-year-old Alan Kurdi dies during his family’s escape from Syria. The photograph of his body on a Turkish beach and word his family had considered Canada as an eventual destination sees Canada’s refugee response become a dominant issue in the election campaign.

The Conservatives increase available resources for the processing of refugee applications, promise to speed up resettlement of the 10,000 originally promised places and announce they’ll match donations for Syrian relief.

The Liberals say they’ll bring over 25,000 government-assisted refugees as soon as possible and encourage the private sector to take in more. They later promise to bring them in by the end of the year.

October

The Liberals win a majority government and say they remain committed to refugee resettlement.

November

The Liberal government announces its plan to resettle 25,000 Syrians.


 
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