In an open letter to Prime Minister Harper, CARL urges immediate and comprehensive action to help Syrian refugees

December 12, 2014

Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper

Office of the Prime Minister

80 Wellington Street

Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2


Fax: 613-941-6900


Re: Open letter to Prime Minister Harper from the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

We are writing on behalf of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) to urge your government to take immediate and comprehensive action to help Syrian refugees at this time of crisis. CARL brings together almost three hundred refugee lawyers, law professors, and law students from diverse backgrounds who share deep concerns about recent changes to Canada’s policies and laws governing refugee health, refugee protection and citizenship. Our organization is deeply concerned that recent government policy in our country has largely turned its back on Syrian refugees, and Canadians of Syrian origin who are desperately trying to sponsor their family members.

In the decades following World War II Canada developed our much celebrated humanitarian tradition: We opened our doors to refugees fleeing Vietnam, Cambodia, Hungary, and Iraq, among others. We resettled survivors of war and tyrannical regimes and did so efficiently and successfully. In 1986, the People of Canada won the United Nations’ Nansen Medal “for the major and sustained contribution” to the cause of refugees.

We cannot accept that today our government is saying no to more than a minimal number of Syrian refugees. We cannot stay silent while our government is mired in excuses and red tape. Sweden, Germany and other rich countries are acting decisively and with generosity to settle some of the 3.5 million women, men, and children who have fled the war-torn nation, but even this pales in comparison to the 3 million Syrian refugees that have crowded into Lebanon, Turkey, and other Middle Eastern countries.

We recognize the importance of robust security screening for any applicants to Canada. However, more than three years into the Syrian civil war, there is no justification for the growing litany of excuses. Canadians remain a compassionate people. Sponsorship agreement holders, faith based groups, and ordinary Canadians have stepped up to the plate.  Unfortunately, government created bureaucratic red tape and other barriers have resulted in multi-year processing delays, so that we have still not met the already exceptionally modest government quota of 200 government sponsored and 1,100 privately sponsored refugees.  As a result, even some of the Syrian refugees selected by Canada languish in deplorable conditions in refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq.

As a wealthy and peaceful country with a long and proud history of being a haven for the persecuted, we have a shared international responsibility to be a safe haven for refugees and to treat them with fairness.

We join with faith groups, human rights groups, settlement workers and ordinary Canadians in calling on our government to ensure that the selection of Syrian refugees is conducted in conformity with the principles of our Constitution and without discrimination based upon religion.  

We further ask our government to:

  1. Put in place flexible provisions to allow family members of Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and recognized refugees to enter Canada by issuing Temporary Resident Permits, with the possibility of access to permanent residence later.
  2. In close consultation and coordination with sponsorship agreement holders, to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees from refugee camps within the next year. The UNHCR recently requested countries to settle 100,000 Syrian refugees. Canada has traditionally agreed to resettle 10 per cent of UNHCR requests.
  3. That all pending applications for Syrian refugees be processed expeditiously, and that in no case should the processing of a refugee claim take more than one year.
  4. That processing of Syrians not replace or divert any resources from other refugee or family reunification programs.


Refugees from Syria cannot afford to lose any more time. People are in crisis, and the world is watching. Prime Minister, the government must act now.

Yours very truly,

Mitchell Goldberg,

President, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers


Hon. Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration


Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe, NDP Critic for Citizenship and Immigration 

Hon. John McCallum, Liberal Critic for Citizenship and Immigration