The devastating picture of a young refugee boy who drowned in Turkey has created a tidal wave of public pressure on governments around the world to help with the Syrian refugee crisis.
Last month, the Saskatchewan government asked the federal government to increase the number of international refugees settled in this province from 350 to 400 each year.
Jeremy Harrison is the Minister of Immigration, Jobs, Skills and Training for Saskatchewan. He said the 15 per cent increase to refugees is significant when you consider that 350 used to represent the total number of immigrants to the province.
He would not commit to more financial support, saying the province is putting the money into helping those 400 refugees when they get here through education, healthcare and settlement services.
“We’re making significant investments to support these folks once they get here, often coming from the most-tragic circumstances a person can imagine; having no resources, having lost their home, having to flee their country,” Harrison said. “We think it’s the right thing to do.”
He says money to help refugees build a life in the safety of Canada is perhaps more important than other kinds of funding to international organizations.
“We’re putting our money where our mouth is by actually putting very significant resources into asking for more refugees in this province,” Harrison said, adding that things like healthcare costs add up to quite a bit.
The Saskatchewan government is also encouraging people to donate to private organizations and churches that are registered to sponsor refugees. Harrison said those organizations already bring in 150 sponsored refugees per year. Brad Wall posted a statement on his Facebook page.
NDP leader Cam Broten says the province should be doing more to support private groups who sponsor refugees.
“What I’m calling on the province to do is to help facilitate that and to help encourage that. So to work with settlement organizations and to have the right partnerships to help recruit people who would like to sponsor refugees to come to Saskatchewan,” Broten said. “Also important in that would be some type of matching grant program where the province could match or contribute some dollars to these individuals who are raising funds to sponsor refugees. So providing a bit of support to magnify what people are already doing in the community.”
Broten also says Saskatchewan should pressure the federal government to speed up the approval process for refugees.
“We want the process as fast as possible and the red tape to be cut and to really fast track this because we think of those families who are suffering who are in anguish and who need a safe place to go,” Broten said. “That’s really been Saskatchewan’s history over the years, as a place that welcomes people for a safe start, for a fresh start.”
He pointed out that the province has pledged hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial support to international aid organizations help countries in crisis in the past like the Phillipines, Haiti and Ukraine.
“I think a starting point could be around half a million dollars but what really needs to happen is the right discussions with these organizations to make sure the amounts are appropriate and will help.”
He says it’s not about reinventing the wheel, it’s about strengthening support that’s already in place to resettle refugees.
In January, the Canadian government promised to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees in three years. Provincial governments in Manitoba and Ontario have called on the federal government to bring in far more refugees. Both provinces have also committed money to help private groups sponsor refugees.