Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Local Syrians argue for refugee influx

Unhappy Canada setting limit at 1,300

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As Syria falls further into despair and the number of people who've fled rises above 1.7 million, Manitobans with affected loved ones hope some will find a safe haven here.

Canada promised Wednesday to resettle up to 1,300 Syrian refugees by 2015. The 200 most vulnerable will be assisted by the federal government. The remaining 1,100 Syrian refugees will be privately sponsored, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said.

"That's nothing," said Dima Al-Sayad, a member of the Syrian Assembly of Manitoba. "I personally know 1,100 people just dying to come to Canada or any safe place." Her parents and sisters fled to Saudi Arabia but her aunts and many relatives remain in Syria, where UN and opposition groups warned of a humanitarian catastrophe Friday.

Syrian government troops unleashed a major artillery barrage on the city of Homs in the country's strategic heartland. As the shells landed, thousands of civilians trapped in the city faced severe shortages of food, water and medicine.

When Al-Sayad heard Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announce how many Syrian refugees Canada will accept, she was disappointed.

"He's not saying why we can't take in more," said the 39-year-old Winnipeg mom. "We know Canada has the capacity to accept refugees," said Al-Sayad. "It's not an odd fit -- people are highly educated and university-education rates are high, especially in the cities." People practise their religion in Syria in a way that didn't bother anyone else, she said. "There are many sects and we lived together for decades," she said.

"English is a second language in the country and many speak English and French, as well" in the former French colony.

The president of the Syrian Assembly of Manitoba said they started the ball rolling last year for Syrians to apply to immigrate through the provincial nominee program. Some were having difficulty getting the documents they need from government offices in Syria, said Jude Kasas.

It's good news Canada is now accepting refugees from Syria, but it seems the world has done too little too late and now there are more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees, said Kasas.

"All they're doing is one conference after another or meeting to prepare for a conference. The result is nothing. They're giving the regime more time to accomplish what they're trying to accomplish," said Kasas.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Friday he was "extremely concerned about the human rights and humanitarian impact" of the government offensive.

"Shortages of food, water, medicine, electricity and fuel in besieged areas are severely affecting civilians, including women and children," he said in a statement issued in Geneva.

Recent reports suggest armed opposition groups are operating inside residential areas, increasing the risk for civilians, the statement said, adding the number of civilians trapped in the heavy fighting in and around Homs is believed to be between 2,500 and 4,000.

More than 93,000 people have been killed in the conflict that began as peaceful protests but turned into an armed revolt after opposition supporters took up arms to fight a brutal government crackdown.

-- with files from The Associated Press

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 0

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