Canada to accept more Syrian, Turkish residents after earthquake

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Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser speaks during a news conference with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, Wednesday, April 6, 2022 in Ottawa.

TORONTO — Canada will make it easier for temporary residents from Turkey and Syria to extend their stay in the country and will prioritize the visa applications of people from these two countries, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said on Saturday. 

More than 50,000 people have been killed and millions displaced after the 7.8-magnitude quake and several powerful aftershocks hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on Feb. 6. 

Fraser said the government will allow people from Turkey and Syria who have a temporary status to visit family, study or work in Canada to apply for an extension and will waive the application fees for them.

He said his department will also prioritize processing temporary visa applications for people affected by the earthquake. 

“For those who apply for a temporary residency visa, we will be able to treat their applications with priority processing,” Fraser said at a news conference in Mississauga, Ont.

“(There are) special measures that we’re implementing, internal to our system, to provide guidance to our officers to facilitate the approval of their cases so they can come to Canada.”

Fraser said the government has learned from its efforts to accept people fleeing Ukraine after the Russian invasion of their country last year. The government offered temporary protection to large numbers of people from Ukraine much faster than it could through ordinary refugee resettlement programs, he said.

“We’re using a new strategy to help facilitate the arrival of people who find themselves in those situations (who) ordinarily may not be approved to come to Canada,” he said.

“The specific mechanism that we’re using involves the use of advanced analytics within (the immigration department) system to identify people who have been impacted by the earthquake and to render a positive eligibility decision for a whole group of applicants at once.”

As of March 10, about 600 Syrian and 6,400 Turkish residents in Canada had temporary status that is set to expire within the next six months, the government said.

There were close to 16,000 Canadian visa applicants from Turkey and Syria as of Feb. 8, including about 1,700 applicants who live within the area that was impacted by the earthquakes, said the government. 

Marwa Khobieh, executive director of the Syrian Canadian Foundation, said the new government measures to help those impacted by the earthquake are a start, but more work is still needed to support the survivors. 

About 6.9 million people were internally displaced inside Syria before the earthquake and more than 6.8 million Syrians have been forced to flee their country since 2011, including 3.6 million in Turkey alone, according to the United Nations.

“Not everybody is aware of the challenges that Syria is facing due to the crisis prior to the earthquake,” Khobieh said. 

“Especially (people) in northwest Syria, they don’t have any even government that would represent them, how are they going to apply?”

Khobieh said it’s important that the government continue working with community organizations to find solutions to logistical challenges that could prevent many from applying to come to Canada. 

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