Syrian refugees need better ways to reconnect with their families
One view by Anneke Smit, Gemma Smyth and Jillian Rogin:
We know that in order to bring in more than 25,000 refugees in just a couple of months, complicated files were avoided, as were single young male refugees. Therefore, some of the most vulnerable were not offered resettlement, even when other members of the family were. In the case of the refugees our group is sponsoring, 10 family members were living together for years under one roof in Lebanon. The nuclear family of husband, wife and four young children was selected for resettlement while the other family members – elderly parents, orphaned nephew, and brother aged 18 – were not. Neither was another sibling, her spouse and young children. Given the limited options for family reunification after arrival in Canada, this selective approach is particularly distressing.
As a result, Syrian refugees will have to look to private sponsorship (groups of five, for example) as their only hope for extended family reunification. This process is complex and financially out of reach for most resettled refugees for at least several years. In the case of “our” family, they found in us a sponsor group willing to raise the funds and sponsor their most vulnerable family members. But that shouldn’t have been necessary had the family been resettled together, or if family reunification channels were more expansive.
This “echo effect” of our massive and laudable Syrian resettlement effort is not going away. During the Kosovo refugee resettlement in 1999, Canada allowed for reunification of a wide array of extended family members of Kosovars already in Canada. We can do the same again today. Along with adequate language training, employment support, mental health counselling and other settlement services, reuniting families is a key part of ensuring this was a job well done.