Speech Article from  Global Affairs Canada

Address by Minister Bibeau to civil society partners and private-sector representatives

February 16, 2016 - Vancouver, British Columbia

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with the Government of Canada’s communications policy.

Good afternoon,

I want to begin by thanking the organizers for the invitation to be here today.

I’d also like to thank my colleague Pam Goldsmith-Jones, Member of Parliament for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country. You all know Pam, and I must underline her support for our initiative to respond to the Syrian crisis. I am grateful for her role in connecting me with your vibrant community.

Thank you all for being here—and for your concern for children and their welfare, especially in situations of armed conflict.

I also want to thank UNICEF for co-hosting today’s events. The Government of Canada has a long-standing partnership with UNICEF, an international leader in development and humanitarian assistance. UNICEF is one of the few organizations to be present on the ground before, during and after crises.

UNICEF is one of our key partners in responding to humanitarian crises around the world. But we also work with UNICEF on large-scale international initiatives to, among many other things:

  • improve maternal, newborn and child health;
  • promote nutrition;
  • eradicate diseases such as polio; and
  • provide protection, psychosocial support and educational opportunities to children affected by conflict.

We are all concerned about the situation in Syria and the effect of the crisis on its neighbours. By this I mean all of us: governments, concerned citizens, philanthropic organizations, humanitarian agencies.

Tonight, I’d like to talk to you about the situation in the region and what your federal government is doing.

I would also like to discuss how the government and the private sector can work more closely together to support efforts, including those of groups like UNICEF, to provide life-saving assistance to those who need it most.

Humanitarians deliver in world’s toughest situations

Since becoming minister of international development, much of my focus has been on the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, including in Syria and Iraq.

Of course, our response to the crisis has also been the focus of the efforts of so many of my colleagues. Thanks to their efforts and those of their departments, the Government of Canada is on track to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees in a very short time.

We can all be proud of the generous response of Canadians across the country who have sponsored Syrian families to help them start a new life in Canada. The mobilization of individuals, the private sector and civil society to raise funds to help these 25,000 refugees resettle quickly in Canada is fantastic.

But we should not forget the millions of people in the Middle East who have been displaced by the Syrian conflict—the largest number since the Second World War:

  • 6.5 million people have been internally displaced within Syria;
  • 13.5 million people inside Syria, of whom 6 million are children, are in need of humanitarian assistance; and
  • as of last month, 4.6 million Syrians had fled to neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey but also to Egypt and North Africa.

These people also need our help. This is my message to you today.

I was recently in the region to see some of the important work the Government of Canada is supporting, so let me share with you some of what I saw.

I met impressive humanitarian actors who have to negotiate daily for access to some of the world’s most vulnerable people, such as those starving in Madaya, Syria.

These humanitarian workers, from the Red Cross and Red Crescent, from Médecins sans frontières and other organizations, have paid a heavy price. More than 60 aid workers have been killed since the start of the conflict in Syria.

Canada is supporting these organizations in the critical work they do to save lives. I also saw how important it is to uphold humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence. This ensures that humanitarian organizations are able to operate in conflict-affected areas and to protect humanitarian workers and the people they are helping.

We in Canada have expertise, resources and close partnerships with the most trusted and experienced humanitarian and development organizations on the ground.

This is why the Government of Canada created the Syrian Emergency Relief Fund.

Through this fund, the government will match donations by individual Canadians to qualifying humanitarian organizations. The government portion of the fund will be invested to respond to needs on the ground. The deadline for matching funds was originally set at January 31, 2015. I extended the deadline until February 29, in recognition of the significant needs created by this crisis.

I want to thank the organizer of this private event for his leadership on this issue and for his family’s $500,000 donation to the Fund. He was a strong voice asking for an extension to the deadline in order to better mobilize Canada’s philanthropic community. As he said to me in a letter acknowledging the deadline’s extension: “Now it is time for me to follow up on my commitment: to inspire my peers and fellow Canadian philanthropists to also give to global causes, in particular to give to humanitarian efforts to support Syrian families before the end of the matching period.”

That is why we are here together today: to continue to urge all Canadians to contribute to the response through recognized Canadian humanitarian organizations working in Syria or the region.

Host community generosity

As I mentioned earlier, two weeks ago I was in the middle of a visit to Jordan and Lebanon.

I was particularly moved by the generosity of host communities.

They have opened their schools, their clinics and even their homes to hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled their country.

With a population of 9 million people, Jordan has welcomed 1.4 million Syrian refugees.

But the rapid influx of refugees in these cities, towns and villages is outpacing their ability to provide adequate services.

Things that seem so basic and normal to us as Canadians—things such as access to education for our children and health care for mothers—have become a real struggle.

In Jordan I met with the mayor and the municipal council of Irbid. Jordan’s second-largest city has grown from 600,000 people to over 800,000 people in just four years as a result of the Syrian conflict.

Can you imagine the stress on municipal infrastructure and services?

Lebanon is also facing enormous challenges, with more than 1 million Syrian refugees in a country of only 4 million people. If you include other refugees in Lebanon, then about one in three people is a refugee.

This means that government resources for basic needs, such as schools and clinics, are overstretched. Not only are governments already trying to support their own citizens, but they are now also struggling to reach large numbers of refugees.

In Lebanon, more than 270 schools are now operating on a double-shift system where Lebanese kids attend class in the morning and then Syrian kids in the afternoon.

These governments are trying. They are doing their part.

But they need the assistance of the international community and international humanitarian and development organizations. Without our help this staggering reality could lead to more instability in the region.

The message that I received from the leaders in Jordan and Lebanon was clear: their countries are at a breaking point.

Refugees want to go home. When displaced, they should be able to live in dignity. When they return home, they must be able to quickly contribute to rebuilding their country. For this to happen, they need to return healthy, educated and with the proper skills.

We must help these governments deliver adequate services and infrastructure and support them while they put in place the right conditions for adults to earn a living and children to play, learn and dream.

What the Canadian government is doing

This is why on February 8, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada’s new integrated, whole-of-government approach to better address the ongoing crises in the Middle East. Canada is making a multi-year commitment to provide more than $1.1 billion in humanitarian and development assistance over the next three years.

We have promised Canadians a government that will bring real change—both in what we do and in how we do it.

This new plan will provide real change in the lives of people in the Middle East who have suffered too much.

As minister of international development, I would like to focus on aspects of the plan that fall within my mandate, namely humanitarian and development assistance.

We will provide much-needed humanitarian assistance, such as urgent health services, water, shelter, protection and food for the most vulnerable people caught in the conflicts in the Middle East.

We will also enhance our long-term development contributions to Canadian, local and international partners who are working to increase the resilience of countries and communities coping with the pressures of hosting large numbers of refugees and displaced people.

Our plan will support host governments and communities in delivering adequate services, rebuilding infrastructure and creating jobs so that adults can earn a living and children can be children with hope for the future—rather than becoming recruitment targets for violent extremist groups.

Education is critical. We need to get children into schools and keep them there. This is why we are a leading donor to the UNICEF-led “No Lost Generation” initiative, which is providing educational opportunities and protection to millions of conflict-affected children and youth in the region. This initiative provides not only schools, books and teachers, but also psychosocial support to children traumatized by the conflict in places like the Makani centres.

Makani means “my space” in Arabic. This is exactly what these kids need—their own space to heal, to learn, to play, to prepare for the future.

However, more needs to be done.

In Jordan so far 168,000 children and teenagers have been registered in Makani centres. This year, UNICEF wants to reach an additional 80,000 boys and girls who have no access to formal education. These are children at risk—at risk of being exploited for labour, exploited for sex, exploited by radicals.

They must be given their own space to thrive.

Their host communities also need to thrive. Our strategy recognizes the importance of resilience. Long-term assistance will help stabilize the region, stem potential refugee flows and create the conditions for longer-term recovery. It is an investment in a future for the region that is more secure, stable and resilient.

Importance of partnerships

Soon after the election, Prime Minister Trudeau said that “Canada is back.” Our new plan for the Middle East is part of making Canada an international leader again on issues such as resilience and re-engaging constructively with our international partners, including the United Nations, international civil society and private-sector stakeholders.

Increasingly, protracted crises underscore the necessity of finding new ways to address underlying causes of conflict and fragility.

This is why I was particularly pleased to be invited to speak to you today. I hope that together we can do our part to deepen our partnership with the private sector.

However, the role of the private sector goes beyond philanthropy. The humanitarian system needs to collaborate more with the unique skills and capabilities of business. A recent UN report (The High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing) highlighted the potential for the private sector to provide new solutions to manage risk, support aid delivery, create jobs, and modernize transparency and accountability.

I believe that governments like ours and private-sector organizations like yours can work together with humanitarian agencies to increase support for humanitarian assistance and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how it is delivered.

Let me give you a few examples. The World Food Programme works with Pulse Canada and other Canadian associations and companies in their goal to deliver food assistance to those most in need around the world.

International satellite companies have agreed to work together to keep cell phone towers running after disaster strikes—this worked well in Nepal last spring, when international satellites kept running until local networks could recover and restart.

And after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, local businesses created networks to collaborate on rebuilding their own communities.

Much can be learned from examples like these; that is why we funded the Humanitarian Coalition to produce a report on humanitarian and private-sector collaboration, which was recently published by the Conference Board of Canada.

While today may only be the beginning of this dialogue, I look forward to pursuing this discussion in the future. This is how this government works—by listening and figuring out ways to work together.

In closing, I would like to thank you for your commitment to the humanitarian cause.

Humanitarian organizations working in Syria need your help. I encourage you to donate to organizations participating in the Syria Emergency Relief Fund.

Let me leave you with what this commitment means concretely. You may be asking yourself, “What difference can I make?”

When I was about to leave for my trip to Jordan and Lebanon, a plane carrying Syrian refugees to a new life in Canada had just landed at the Montréal airport. I spoke with a family who had just arrived and was waiting for a connecting flight to Fredericton.

A husband, his wife and their three beautiful, but tired, children.

After a few minutes of conversation the father had to walk away, overcome with emotion. He apologized (imagine that, he felt the need to apologize), saying: “This is the first time since we left Syria four years ago that people have smiled at us.”

This is what your commitment to your fellow human beings means.

The chance to offer a smile and to say, “You are okay. This isn’t your fault. We are happy to help. Let’s work this out together.”

Thank you.


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