'Beyond the Syrian refugees': Canadians urged to help others too

As Canada opens its doors to thousands of Syrian refugees, advocates are asking Canadians to also consider welcoming those fleeing other conflicts and persecution.

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Immigration Minister John McCallum said Sunday that Canada could accept as many as 50,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016, potentially doubling the government's previous commitment to take in 25,000 by the end of February.

And as Canadians rally to help that effort, Canadian Council of Refugees Executive Director Janet Dench says her organization hopes they will also think about helping refugees fleeing from other war-torn countries, too.

"We're hoping that people who are now responding to Syrian refugees … might also take a moment to think about refugees from other regions of the world," Dench told CTV's Canada AM on Monday.

While Dench applauded the Liberal government's actions to fast-track Syrian refugee applications, she said refugees from places such as Afghanistan, the Congo, the Sudan, or Eritrea face obstacles in trying to come to Canada.

"It is a concern for people from other parts of the world, wondering if they've been a little bit forgotten in all of the rush to help Syrian refugees," she said.

According to Dench, refugees from places outside of Syria still face lengthy processing times.

"It is very routine for people to wait five years," she said. "And of course during that time people die, people get sick, children go without education … it's really unacceptable."

And if refugees from places other than Syria are accepted, Dench said, they'll also face extra barriers in Canada.

The previous Conservative government slashed healthcare coverage for refugees, cutting back on access to prescription drugs, dental care, vision care, and mental health care for some newcomers.

The Liberals have since pledged to provide those services for the Syrian refugees it has brought in since coming to power.

But refugees from other countries won't be guaranteed the same support, Dench said.

"At the moment it means that two refugees that arrive on the same day … if they arrive as a Congolese refugee then they don't have the same healthcare as a Syrian refugee," she said.

While Dench praised efforts by the government and ordinary Canadians to help Syrians reach safety, she said she hoped a renewed interest in refugee issues would spur further action.

"We're hoping that more and more Canadians will look beyond the Syrian refugees," she said.



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