Canada probes Syrian refugee crisis after toddler drowns

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SHAFAQNA - The drowning of a 2-year-old Syrian refugee allegedly trying to reach Canada prompted the Canadian immigration minister to suspend his re-election campaign Thursday to investigate the tragedy.

Chris Alexander cancelled a scheduled appearance and returned to the Canadian capital of Ottawa to look into the case and get up to speed on the Syrian refugee crisis.

“The tragic photo of young Aylan Kurdi and the news of the death of his brother and mother broke hearts around the world,” Alexander said in a statement. “I am meeting with officials to ascertain both the facts of the case of the Kurdi family and to receive an update on the migrant crisis.”

The image of the toddler found drowned after his body washed up on a Turkish beach circulated around the world on Wednesday.

Relatives of the boy live in the Canadian province of British Columbia told Canadian media they had applied to bring him and his family there as refugees.

But the family said the application was rejected.

The two brothers and their mother drowned trying to flee to Europe but their father Abdullah survived. Abdullah’s sister, Fatima, had immigrated to Canada years ago, the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) reported.

The Canadian Department of Citizenship and Immigration says it never received a formal application for refugee status for the toddler’s father.

The boy’s aunt, Tima Kurdi of Coquitlam, British Columbia, applied for his uncle, Mohamed, but had money to sponsor only one brother at a time.

The application was designated as incomplete and was returned, Tima Kurdi told Canadian media. She was so discouraged that she did not submit an application for Aylan’s father, Abdullah, and family.

She told the Canadian Press News Service that she sent an unspecified amount of money to the family so the family could buy passage across the water. The boat capsized and Abdullah survived, but his two young sons and his wife drowned.

Federal New Democrat Party politician Fin Donnelly said he brought the Kurdi immigration appeal to Alexander’s attention earlier this year, but it was later rejected, the CBC reported.

“It was terrible and obviously action was needed,” Donnelly said. “That’s why I agreed to do what I could, including personally talking to the minister”, but received no response.

Alexander tried to defend the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper by saying the country has “one of the most generous per capita immigration and refugee resettlement programs in the world.”

“Prime Minister Harper has set a target for Canada to accept 23,000 Iraqis (sic) refugees and 11,300 Syrians.”

But critics have said Canada could do much more.

Vice News reported Thursday that the Kurdi application is just one of thousands that have been declined or gone unanswered in recent years.

The Canadian Council on Refugees was critical of Canada’s failure to act.

“These small boys could be alive today, if Canada had responded more appropriately to the Syrian refugee crisis,” the council’s president Loly Rico said in a statement, as reported by Vice. “We shouldn’t need to wait for a tragedy like this to realize we must open our doors.”

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau was quick to condemn Alexander for dragging his heels as the Syrian refugee crisis worsened – more than 4 million refugees have fled Syria since the start of civil war in 2011.

Canada is in the midst of a federal election campaign and Trudeau suggested Alexander was employing election year politics.

“You don’t suddenly discover compassion in the middle of an election campaign,” he said Thursday, as reported by the CBC. “You either have it or you don’t.”

Turkey has won praise for accepting 2 million Syrian refugees since the civil war there began in 2011 and has spent $6 billion caring for them while receiving just $400 million in outside aid, the World Post reported Thursday.

“The international community has failed,” Canadian New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair said Thursday. “Canada has failed. I just want us to start acting now, as do all Canadians,” he added.

 

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