Sean SpeerThe newly-elected Liberals have their work cut out for them in bringing 25,000 refugees to Canada over the next few months. But what does a sustainable long-term refugee policy look like?

MLI Senior Fellows Christian Leuprecht and Sean Speer, writing in the National Post, lay the groundwork for a refugee policy that balances compassion for victims of conflict with security concerns.

This is part of MLI's "From A Mandate For Change To A Plan To Govern", a series aimed at providing practical advice for Canada's new government on how best to implement its election promises.

By Christian Leuprecht and Sean Speer, Dec. 14, 2015

Last week marked the arrival of the first Syrian refugees to Canada as part of the new government’s commitment to resettle 25,000 by the end of February. The images of these families arriving with little more than the clothes on their backs have galvanized Canadians and spawned acts of compassion and civic engagement in communities across the country.

The worldwide refugee crisis is the worst in decades, shows no signs of abating, and indeed may actually worsen

Yet we cannot let the immediacy of this moment cause us to lose sight of the larger picture. The government should be applauded for taking swift action to help address this humanitarian crisis. But the scramble to identify the right number of refugees and settle them quickly reveals that Canada’s approach to refugees needs a major overhaul to respond to new global realities.

The worldwide refugee crisis is the worst in decades, shows no signs of abating, and indeed may actually worsen. Canada needs a long-term refugee policy that is coherent, systematic, and sets the conditions for incoming refugees to integrate and find opportunity here in Canada.

What does that look like? Such a plan would have three key components.

Christian LeuprechtFirst, the government’s annual resettlement target should be developed in a bottom-up exercise in consultation with provinces, cities, and civil society groups who sponsor refugees. The federal target should be a function of local capacity rather than arbitrary political whims. The obligation, then, would be on communities to step up to meet their own goals, and, in exchange, the federal government might fully or partially compensate them for incremental costs, such as education and health care, for a certain number of years.

Second, the federal government should maximize the number of privately sponsored refugees. The rationale isn’t about cost or a lack of compassion. It’s about results. Research shows that privately sponsored refugees tend to integrate better, more quickly, and ultimately more successfully than refugees with no prior links or social capital. An “enabling agenda” might include supporting more private sponsorship by reducing wait times and providing greater financial support to Sponsorship Agreement Holders and to individuals and families who sponsor refugees.

Third, Canada must support those states that are bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis. There is a risk of making the smug presumption that everyone wants to come to Canada. To the contrary, refugees — Syrian or otherwise — overwhelmingly don’t want to leave their homeland and would prefer to stay in the region. Canada’s geographic distance from the heart of the crisis means that we get to “cherry pick,” often from the UN-sanctioned camps, but other jurisdictions — particularly the neighbouring states — do not. Compassion shouldn’t be a function of geography.

Canada has a moral obligation to support countries that are the front line of the crisis.

Consider that almost half of all Syrians — an estimated nine million — have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in 2011. Of these, more than four million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. These countries were already facing economic and social challenges of their own, and are now buckling under the pressure of massive refugee inflows. Lebanon, for example, now hosts about 1.2 million refugees from Syria, or the equivalent of one in five people in the country. The seeds for further instability are already germinating as a result.

Canada has a moral obligation to support countries that are the front line of the crisis.

The new government’s Speech from the Throne stated that we’ll need to be “smart and caring — on a scale as never before” to address today’s challenges. Nowhere is this truer than in refugee policy. There are cases in Canada’s history, such as the rejection of the S.S. Komagatu Maru in 1914 and treatment of Jewish refugees during the Second World War, where we failed to live up to this standard of intelligence and compassion.

To get it right this time we should focus on three key principles — working in concert with provinces and municipalities, mobilizing civil society, and targeting our resources internationally. These are the essential ingredients of a smart and caring long-term plan for refugees.

Christian Leuprecht is a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, and a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Sean Speer is a senior fellow at Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

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