Canada opens its doors to 10,000 Syrian refugees. An example to others?

Escalating violence in the Middle East requires nations outside the region to step in and provide asylum. Is Canada setting a precedent for the rest of North America? 

Mohamed Azakir/Reuters
A Syrian refugee girl sits with her brother at a makeshift settlement in Bar Elias in the Bekaa valley Jan. 5, 2015. Over four years, more than 6 million Syrians have been displaced by intensifying violence in the region.

Canada is coming to the rescue.

The country announced Wednesday that it will be opening its borders to a total of 10,000 refugees from Syria and 3,000 from Iraq over the next three years, The Globe and Mail reports.

That figure is only a fraction of the people who have been displaced by conflicts in the Middle East: There are about 6.5 million internally displaced people or IDPs out of Syria and about 400,000 out of Iraq, according to the latest data from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Still, the announcement is a welcome relief for other countries in the region, most of whom been hosting a near-constant flow of refugees since the Syrian civil war broke out four years ago.

Some, such as Turkey and Lebanon, have even begun to implement tougher measures on IDPs who are seeking asylum within their borders. The Christian Science Monitor reported Monday that the Lebanese government now requires Syrian visitors to apply for one of six visas and to provide documents proving they have a valid reason to enter Lebanon. Previously, Syrians only needed an identification card to cross the border.

“There are 1.5 million Syrians in Lebanon, among them 1,070,000 are registered as refugees,” Nohad Mashnouq, the Lebanese Interior minister, said in a press conference Monday. “That is enough, and Lebanon has no ability to receive more refugees.”

In Turkey, where about 1 million Syrian IDPs currently reside, border control has taken a brutal turn: Amnesty International reported in November that between December 2013 and August 2014, at least 17 people have been killed by border guards at unofficial crossing points. The Turkish government has spent at least $1.5 billion on Syrian refugees.

“Turkey is clearly struggling to meet even the most basic needs of hundreds of thousands Syrian refugees. The result is that many of those who have made it across the border have been abandoned to a life of destitution,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Turkey.

Jordan, too, is hosting more than 800,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, and various other places – no small feat for a country of about 6.4 million.

Other nations, particularly Germany, have tried stepped in to bear some of the brunt. In the last two years, the German government has committed to harboring up to 30,000 Syrians on humanitarian grounds, Al Jazeera America reported last month. The United Kingdom, Italy, France, and Spain have admitted about 2,000 refugees, while Brazil has received about 1,500

The opening of Canada's borders comes with $90 million in aid, to be distributed to Syrian and Iraqi refugees and victims through the United Nations, the Red Cross, and other organizations. Still, the planned program has its share of skeptics: Immigration critic John McCallum, for instance, has expressed doubts about the Canadian government’s ability to resettle so many.

But as violence intensifies across the Middle East due to continued fighting between Islamic jidahists and government forces, humanitarian agencies say that help from any corner of the world would be welcome.

“We are urging again the international community to support Lebanon, support Jordan, support these host countries, because they are absolutely overwhelmed and we recognize that,” UNHCR Ron Redmond told the Monitor. “If they don’t get even more assistance from the international community, this is going to be an even bigger problem.”

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