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This article was published 8/10/2015 (2083 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The cold shoulder Syrian refugees got from the Prime Minister’s Office earlier this year is nothing like the warm embrace they’ve received from their Canadian neighbours, Syrian Manitobans say.
"People want to help as much as they can," said Jude Kasas, president of the Syrian Assembly of Manitoba.
"We have offers to drive families around in the city, helping them with grocery shopping, teaching them English and donating furniture and clothes."
Kasas said he and other Syrian community members were "baffled" Thursday when they read the news that the Prime Minister’s Office put a halt to the processing of UN-referred government-assisted refugees earlier this year.
The processing stop, which was not disclosed to the public, was in place for at least several weeks. It is unclear when it was lifted. At the same time, a security audit was ordered of all Syrian refugees referred by the United Nations in 2014 and 2015.
The audit was carried out only on government-assisted refugee cases, including those already in Canada and those still in the queue.
The 24 Syrians who arrived in Winnipeg earlier this week are privately sponsored refugees. They have relatives in Winnipeg and were sponsored by Refuge Winnipeg, a coalition of different faith and community groups and individuals.
"The processing of privately sponsored refugees continued throughout this period," said Chris Day, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.
Neither Day nor the department explained why one group’s files were reviewed while the others weren’t, nor what specific concerns triggered the audit. The review uncovered no issues and may be the reason that only 287 government-assisted refugee files were closed between January and August of this year, compared to 1,513 privately sponsored refugees.
The Conservative government ordered the review of some Syrian refugee cases this summer as a result of intelligence reports suggesting refugees could pose a threat.
"Our government has adopted a generous approach to the admission of refugees while ensuring the selection of the most vulnerable people and keeping our country safe and secure," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said during a campaign stop in Vancouver Thursday after news of the review surfaced.
"The audit we asked for earlier this year was to ensure that these policy objectives are being met."
Of the 11,300 Syrian refugees the government has committed to resettling since the start of the Syrian war, the vast majority are being resettled by private groups, mostly churches.
The processing of privately sponsored refugees was delayed as well, said Winnipeg’s Laila Chebib. She’s on the committee of Refuge Winnipeg that privately sponsored three families who arrived in the city this week. The 24 Syrians were expected to arrive in April but didn’t get here until Oct. 5 because of processing delays, said Chebib.
The woman who immigrated to Canada from Syria more than 50 years ago is disappointed by Canada’s response to the refugee crisis.
"This is not the Canada we know," she said, questioning the Prime Minister’s motives for the way Syrian refugees have been treated. "He’ got something against Muslims? He’s using them as a shield to hide behind his own inadequacy? It’s incredible," said Chebib.
Kasas said Canadians saw people in need and "generously responded to the refugee crisis in the most appropriate and compassionate manner."
"The response of the general public gave us a warm feeling of reassurance and renewed our love for this county," he said.
While neighbours embrace them as if they’re part of "one big family," Kasas said, "some politicians insist on perceiving Syrian refugees with apprehension and a tone of suspicion."
"Appealing to fear and consistently shifting the focus from helping families to checking their security backgrounds is a misrepresentation of a humanitarian cause," said Kasas.
"...We are afraid that the general public will start associating security concerns with Syrian refugees," he said. "Our elected officials must not turn us against each other. Syrians are just like Germans, Ukrainians, Polish, Portuguese, Filipinos, Bosnians, Chinese and all of us. They simply want to live in peace and provide their children with hope and maybe a shot at a promising future."
— with files from The Canadian Press
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.