Mark Collins – New Canadian Government: What About, say, Black African Refugees?

Consider this: “The refugees of concern to UNHCR are spread around the world, with the largest number in sub-Saharan Africa (4.1 million)…”  Then consider the following in the Globe and Mail:

Do non-Syrian refugees get a fair shake at receiving aid from Canada?

…[a] growing number of sponsors and settlement workers…feel that refugees from other parts of the world are being neglected amid the clamour to help people fleeing Syria.

It’s a sentiment that many air gingerly to avoid seeming churlish about what they see as an encouraging pro-refugee stand from the new government, directed toward worthy recipients.

But as Immigration Minister John McCallum trumpets the fulfilment of his pledge to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February, and sets refugee-arrival targets for the rest of the year, those concerns are being aired more vocally.

“We’ve been hearing it for a long time from our members across the country,” said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees [website here]. “There’s been a kind of favouring of Syrians against other refugees.”

Critics say the bias extends from government policy to media coverage to aid from members of the public.

…the perceived hypocrisy of catering particularly to people from one part of the world clearly rankles many who work on refugee issues.

Toronto resident Maureen Smith is part of a group sponsoring a man who fled Sudan during that country’s civil war, after his family was killed by the Janjaweed militia.

In Jordan, where he sought refuge, racism toward black Africans runs high.“They’re in more danger in Jordan than the Syrians in Jordan – by far,” Ms. Smith said. “They’re in a far more desperate plight.”

But the Sudanese man – whose name she asked to be withheld for his safety – has encountered delays in his Canadian asylum application that she attributes in part to the priority being given to Syrian refugees.

“I would say the Syrian situation – and forgive me for using the word – but it’s a sexier situation to report on,” Ms. Smith said. “Is it unconscious racism? I don’t know. But it’s definitely unfair, however you want to couch it.”

Unfortunately for refugees from Africa – the “forgotten continent,” as it’s known by Canadian refugee workers – Ms. Smith’s attitude is relatively unusual. More common, according to some who work in the field, is an absolute preference for Syrian asylum-seekers…

Any sunny ways for the Dark Continent?

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds 

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