Speech Article from  Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

Speaking notes for John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship at a Panel Discussion Showcasing Best Practices for the Admission of Syrian Refugees

Geneva, Switzerland
March 30, 2016

As delivered

Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure for me to be here today to speak to you about welcoming 25,000 refugees.

But before going further on that, I just want to give a warm thank you because none of this would have been possible without the great assistance of the Governments of Jordan and Lebanon and Turkey and also the central role played by UNHCR and IOM.

There are four points I would like to make. First, the importance of leadership from the top. More than a hundred years ago, former Canadian Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier made the following statement: “There is no longer any family here but the human family. It matters not the language people speak or the altars at which they kneel.” And I think using 21st century language, Prime Minister Trudeau had exactly the same reason for supporting the refugees, as I think as Angela Merkel, using similar words. It is, quite simply, the right thing to do.

Second, although political leadership is critical, another important factor was frequent and honest communication to the Canadian people. Every week, we had a press conference and we would be honest, we would tell the story, we would tell the good points and the bad points or the challenges, and I think Canadian people responded. I think that initially at the time of the Paris attacks their main thought might have been terrorism. As time went by, after this communication, their main thought was let’s welcome these refugees. Let’s have a national project to welcome them, bringing together big companies, little companies, little children in a national project to welcome refugees.

And I believe it has worked to the point where one of my biggest challenges as Immigration Minister is to find enough refugees to satisfy the challenges of all those Canadian families who want to bring them to Canada.

So I think a third point is that the term burden-sharing is unfortunate because while there is a burden at the beginning, in the not-too-long run it becomes an investment, and refugees make a positive contribution to our country and our economy. We know from past waves of refugees from Vietnam and Hungary and Uganda and other places that they’ve done very well in our country and they have made a positive contribution. So yes, it’s a burden in the short run, but it’s paid back relatively quickly.

And I’ll just give you one example. One of my 31-year-old cabinet colleagues is herself a refugee from Afghanistan, and there are many, many other such cases.

And the last point I would make, and I think we might be able to share this with other interested countries and I know we already have to a degree, is that we built a number of machines which I believe to be exportable for those who are interested.

First, we built a processing machine in Jordan and Lebanon with some 500 Canadians over there, and we learned to do something we’d never done before, which was to process people way faster and without sacrificing anything on the security front. So we’ve spoken to a number of countries. We’d be happy to talk to others on that.

We also had a processing machine at home where people, when they arrived, it would take one hour to become landed immigrants, permanent residents, health cards. And they will – 90 percent of them will be full citizens within four years.

And finally, we have a processing machine to welcome Canadians. As I said, it’s a national project, so all players are involved — companies, small children, individuals, settlement organizations which have been doing this for decades.

And the one point I’d leave you with because I think it is exportable and it is potentially useful in the current context is our sponsorship program for private individual families where they pay the main share of the costs in bringing in the refugees, and I believe in today’s context, if more families could bring in refugees rather than having refugees arrive irregularly, that would be a much smoother and more hospitable process.

So I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. Canada is certainly acutely aware of the gravity of this problem and we stand ready to help any of those who would wish to ask for our help in resolving this most important and world-reaching refugee crisis.

So I thank you very much for your attention.


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