British Columbia’s small Kurdish community is rallying around the aunt of a drowned Syrian boy, whose parents had given up hope of settling in Canada, to demand Ottawa accept more refugees fleeing the humanitarian crisis.
Shwan Chawshin, a spokesperson for the non-profit Kurdish House, which plans community gatherings, said his group is organizing the several thousand Kurdish people living in the province to join a rally in Vancouver on Sunday calling on the Canadian government to at least double its stated commitment to admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2017.
Tima Kurdi, who is Kurdish, is expected to be there, he said. Ms. Kurdi is the Coquitlam woman who had once planned on sponsoring her brother’s family before his wife and children drowned off the coast of Turkey. Photos of Ms. Kurdi’s three-year-old nephew Alan’s limp body were “very sad not just for the Kurdish community, but to the whole world,” Mr. Chawshin said.
“We want Canada to pay attention to those countries that are torn apart by war,” Mr. Chawshin said. “To many people, Canadian immigration policy is prejudiced and discriminatory.”
Mr. Chawshin, who also runs the KurdTV program on a local multicultural channel, said he remembers being only the second Kurd in the province when he fled northern Iraq and arrived in British Columbia, by way of Sweden, in 1984. Most of the Kurdish population is spread across Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Armenia and Syria, so arrivals list those countries as their nationality when entering Canada, Mr. Chawshin said. That makes it difficult to know the true size of the B.C. community, which is estimated at between 3,000 and 4,000.
Several hundred Kurdish refugees arrived in Metro Vancouver in the mid-1990s after fleeing Saddam Hussein’s renewed oppression in northern Iraq, according to Chris Friesen, who is the director of settlement services at the non-profit Immigration Services Society of B.C. Most of those immigrants are now “doing exceptionally well,” he said.
Ottawa honoured a 2013 commitment to resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees this past March and a spokesman with Citizenship and Immigration Canada says the department has so far settled 1,074 new Syrians as part of its January goal to resettle another 10,000 over the next three years.
The government wouldn’t provide a breakdown of where those Syrians have put down roots, but Quebec has taken the largest share and B.C. has welcomed only 72, according to Mr. Friesen, who also chairs the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance lobby group.
Mr. Friesen said those refugees often “are arriving with varying degrees of trauma, because the war is so near to them.”
“Many family members are dealing with horrific migration experiences,” he said.
Most are provided with housing allowances matching B.C.’s $375 welfare rates and have settled in Vancouver suburbs such as New Westminster, Surrey and Coquitlam, Mr. Friesen said.
After news broke of the Kurdi family’s tragedy, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said Thursday he has asked the city manager to review how the municipality can offer more immediate assistance to refugees from Syria and Iraq.
Shirley Bond, B.C.’s minister responsible for labour, issued a statement Thursday saying immigration decisions “lie entirely with the federal government,” but that her province will continue to welcome the settlement of refugees.
Mr. Friesen said the imbalance in how many Syrian refugees the provinces take in exists because Canada is overly reliant on the private sponsorship of refugees, by either faith groups or family members, many of whom are living in Quebec.
Mr. Friesen’s national association is calling on the government to initiate its refugee emergency contingency plan, created in 2002 after the Kosovo crisis, to expedite the immigration of Syrian refugees with family in Canada. As well, the group wants Ottawa to consult with the United Nations and European Union to finalize an emergency settlement target, which could greatly increase the number of Syrian refugees Canada agrees to welcome.