Conservatives didn’t cherry-pick religious minority refugees: Alexander

Valid defence of the policy but the documents suggest a more interventionist approach. Alexander, in the article, is silent about the tiny numbers admitted (which suggest more ‘cherry picking’ – see Conservatives cherry picked certain Syrian refugee files: documents).

More interesting, he does not comment on the implications of the PMO audit: that PMO did not trust Alexander, CIC, or PCO to ensure that the policy direction of preference for religious minorities was being implemented, and what would likely be unprecedented PMO involvement in a refugee file .

When I worked in PCO, the normal way PMO would ‘manage’ what was considered a problematic file (one that departments were not managing well), was through PCO, not directly:

Former immigration minister Chris Alexander is defending his government’s approach to resettling Syrian refugees, denying that the Conservatives cherry-picked cases by prioritizing religious and ethnic minorities.

Every country working with the United Nations refugee agency on the humanitarian crisis in Syria operated under agreed-upon criteria for how to decide which refugees they’d accept, Alexander said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

The basic principle was to focus on the most vulnerable, but additional priorities had to be applied, Alexander said.

“To determine who was the most needy, who is the most vulnerable among four million people, you need to set some priorities,” he said.

“And that’s what the Syria core group has done from the beginning and that’s what Canada’s operation to resettle Syrian refugees has striven to do.”

Alexander, who lost his Toronto-area seat in last fall’s election, was at the helm of the Immigration portfolio when the Conservatives announced last January they would increase the number of refugees accepted by Canada from 1,300 to 10,000.

But they also announced they would concentrate on bringing in members of religious and ethnic minorities, prompting accusations of an anti-Muslim bias and charges that the government was violating UN rules.

Most religious minorities in the region are from Christian groups. The UN also specifically asks countries not to use religion as a factor in determining who to take in.

‘Areas of focus’

How exactly the Conservatives applied their approach was made clear this week via documents tabled in the House of Commons in response to a question from the NDP.

In them, the Immigration department said visa officers working in Lebanon and Jordan pulled cases that met the “areas of focus” criteria and processed those on a priority basis, while others were processed on regular timelines.

‘The principle we respected all along was humanitarian need. There were a variety of priorities under that heading’ – Former immigration minister Chris Alexander

Alexander said religion and ethnic status were not the sole area of focus and that they were working from a set of principles agreed upon by resettlement states.

A document he provided outlining those principles makes no mention of religion or ethnicity, but Alexander said they were understood to be part of a category described as people “belonging to a group for whom the authorities are unable to provide protection.”

He also pointed to another document, available on the website of the British arm of the UN refugee agency.

“Refugees who face serious threats to their physical security, particularly due to political opinion or belonging to an ethnic or religious minority group, may also be prioritized,” the document states.

In prioritizing religious minorities, the Conservatives were not picking a single faith, Alexander noted.

But applying that lens to the program reflected the nature of the conflict, which includes Islamic militants targeting Christian minorities or the Assad regime in Syria going after Sunni Muslims.

“This is the way this conflict is unfolding and those groups who face persecution because of their faith, or their ethnicity or their political views deserve special forms of protection,” he said.

Source: Conservatives didn’t cherry-pick religious minority refugees: Alexander – Politics – CBC News

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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