OTTAWA, Canada, March 22 (UNHCR) – Marking his first visit to Canada, the United Nations refugee chief congratulated Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his humanitarian leadership over the global refugee crisis and conveyed a strong message of support calling for this to continue.
“I welcomed the Prime Minister’s leadership not only in resettling over 25,000 Syrian refugees but also raising funding to UNHCR to record levels,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said after meeting the Prime Minister at the Canadian Parliament on Tuesday evening.
Canada is expected to resettle around 45,000 refugees in 2016, its largest number ever, while this year’s financial support so far of C$150 million for UNHCR’s lifesaving humanitarian work worldwide is already a record and almost 66 per cent more than the country donated last year.
“I called on Prime Minister Trudeau to continue to make Canada an example for other countries,” said Grandi, adding that this had also been a message conveyed to him strongly in meetings with resettled refugees and Canadian civil society groups.
The High Commissioner began his four day mission to Canada on Saturday by meeting resettled Syrian refugee families, who had arrived as part of the 25,000 and had been welcomed in 261 communities across Canada.
“Right now, language is our main challenge. We can’t understand everything that people say,” said 33-year-old Malva Hasan Halo, who had arrived in Ottawa from Turkey just 12 days earlier with her husband Ferhan Halo and their four young children.
“But we are safe here and the kids are safe,” she said through an interpreter, adding that they are very grateful to Canada for the opportunity to start a new life and also happy that they made it together as a family.
In a packed schedule, Grandi also met Canada’s Governor General and five ministers – Foreign Affairs, Immigration, International Development, Public Safety, National Defence – as well as addressing audiences at Ottawa and Carleton Universities.
Speaking during a press conference on Parliament Hill, the High Commissioner stressed that despite the challenge of a world where war, conflict and persecution have forced a record 60 million people worldwide to flee for their lives, this year will also see a number of global conferences aimed at garnering more international support for solutions.
The World Humanitarian Summit will take place in Turkey in May, while in September there will be a UN summit on refugees and migrants, followed by a separate summit focused on refugees and hosted by President Obama.
Additionally, Grandi noted that on March 30, UNHCR will be hosting a high-level international conference in Geneva, calling on governments for a major increase in resettlement places and other legal pathways for admission of Syrians.
To date, some 170,000 such places have been pledged by governments around the world and UNHCR wants to increase that to roughly ten per cent of the registered refugee population, currently at 4.8 million people in the immediate surrounding region alone.
Coming on the heels of the fifth anniversary of Syria’s war, the March 30 meeting will be an opportunity for governments and communities to boost their concrete support for Syrians.
By Brian Hansford and Gisèle Nyembwe in Ottawa, Canada