We are now at about 25 minutes before four o'clock, so I think we will begin our meeting.
On behalf of our committee, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, I want to welcome a group here today, the German-Canadian Parliamentary Friendship Group of the German Bundestag.
Welcome to Canada, ladies and gentlemen. It's a real pleasure to have you here. We sincerely hope your stay here in Canada will be very productive and very enjoyable indeed.
I haven't had the pleasure of visiting Germany. I haven't been at your Parliament, but I do believe we have some people on our committee who have visited your Parliament. I think Mr. Telegdi has been there, and Mr. Wilson has been in Germany. It would be very interesting to have our committee visit Germany to see how you deal with immigration matters as well. Maybe today you might be able to let us know what the immigration challenges are in Germany. We have challenges of our own.
We recently finished a cross-Canada tour and talked about the Iraqi refugee problems that we have, and we're going to have the UNHCR here shortly after you leave. We heard 52 panels of people right across Canada, dealing with temporary foreign workers, dealing with the Iraqi refugee problems, and dealing as well with the immigration consultants.
Over the next four days we will initiate a study on , which is a bit of a controversial bill in our Parliament. It involves changes to the Immigration Act. There's some controversy among opposition members about that particular bill, so we'll be studying Bill C-50 for a few days. We also had the issue of lost Canadians, which we did a report on and submitted to Parliament.
We're a very busy committee. I think committee members would agree that we are very busy.
Perhaps I'll just go to you. I wouldn't even attempt to try to pronounce the names because I know I wouldn't be accurate. Perhaps I'll leave it to your leader, the head of the delegation, Mr. Klaus-Peter Flosbach, to introduce your members.
I will try to give an answer in the English language.
First of all, you have to define how to do the work, which is done on your own. So normally I would say Germany was less experienced than Canada in this area. We had a lot of guest workers, beginning in the sixties and seventies, and then Germany made a lot of mistakes, which we now have to cure in the current environment. So it's more on us to ask you how to integrate these people.
We have experience with unskilled workers and skilled workers. We have no legislation for coming into Germany at the moment, as you have for Canada, so I would say you have to give the answer on your own. That is very diplomatic, I hope. So we are keen on getting knowledge about how to integrate.
We have, as Klaus-Peter Flosbach mentioned, a lot of immigrants from former Russia who have less German skills. So they began to build their own villages within Germany and they do not integrate. We see this and we have to react somehow. We have looked at your school system and others. You spend about $1 billion for English skills and other courses to help your people who come here integrate. So if you only say, “Hey, there's work, and it has to be done,” then the person might go back.
This will somehow work, I'm sure. But normally you have a person who will come to Canada, and then the person says, “Hey, I have a nice wife or some kids and they have to come too. We feel comfortable here, we would like to stay.” And you have to give an answer later. So it's not easy to handle this.
My party in Germany--which is not in power at the moment--would ask for a rule to establish a process for people coming to Germany, so that the way to Germany is clear and transparent for everyone outside Germany. This is not clear, even for me, in Germany, but we have to deal with it. So we come to learn from you on this issue.
I'll speak in French, so you'll have the translation in English and then back into German.
My name is Thierry St-Cyr and I am a member of the Bloc Québécois, like Mr. Robert Carrier. Since your arrival on Parliament Hill, you have probably heard talk about the Bloc Québécois, a party that runs candidates only in Quebec and that believes Quebec should be an independent country. In the meantime, we work with our colleagues here in Canada, in order to move things forward.
I am very pleased that you are here today. I must tell you that I like Germany very much, having been there several times, including to Berlin, Hamburg, Baden-Baden and, of course to Munich, which is rather my favourite. I must admit to you that I had the opportunity to go to the real Oktoberfest, in Munich, and that I really enjoyed it.
I wanted to talk a bit with you about models of integration that coexist and, in certain cases, one might say, are in opposition to each other in Canada. In fact, if you are going to be in Montreal tomorrow, you should speak to representatives of the ministère de l'Immigration et des Communautés culturelles du Québec. It might be interesting to see how the Quebecois model is different and go back home with two models in mind. You could certainly take what appears to be most interesting from them.
As far as integration is concerned, once we have chosen our immigrants—because Quebec chooses in own immigrants under an agreement it has with the Canadian government—how do we integrate those people into society? You spoke of this earlier.
Since the 1970s in Canada, there has been a model of Canadian multiculturalism that is enshrined in the Constitution, according to which several cultures coexist but do not necessarily mix with each other. People come here, and Canada is made up of all these cultures. For example, when we are gathering statistics and people are asked what their origin is, there is a very small majority of people who say they are of Canadian descent. Most say they are of Hungarian, Greek or Brazilian descent, among others.
In Quebec, we have a model we call interculturalism, that is to say we believe that there is a common culture into which each immigrant must integrate, that he must contribute to, but from which he must also adopt common values, traditions and a way of living. This is often a source of disagreement between Quebec and the rest of Canada, because we have two very different ways of seeing integration. Multiculturalism is several cultures coexisting in Canada, and interculturalism is a common culture in Quebec with contributions coming from citizens of various origins.
Have you heard about these different visions between the governments, and in Germany, which one would you be closest to?
Certainly I'd like to welcome all of you from the delegation here to Canada. I hope you enjoy your stay and visit. I know it's tiring, for sure. You've done a lot in a few days. I know what that can be like.
As the chair said, you've met with the minister, so if I say anything contrary to what she said, accept that as the fact and we'll work from there.
In our immigration system, as we now have it, we have a number of pillars. We have the economic class, the family reunification class, the refugee protection class, temporary foreign workers, and foreign students, who come into our country. And those are there as we work with....
But I can tell you that our backlog has now grown to 900,000-plus, so I'm not sure you want to learn that part of our system. We are looking at making modifications, improvements, and reform to that system, and that's the subject of a fair amount of debate.
We find that if newcomers can have a job, a roof over their head, and a family who can reunite with them who are also able to work, that will go a long way toward settlement and integration.
As a government, we have committed $1.4 billion, over five years, to help with settlement and integration, primarily in helping those coming to our country for the first time to understand a bit about the culture, how society works, and to help them with the English or French language. We have certain classes that are offered to them. There are over 400 different organizations that work with us in providing those services, and those are funded across the country. One of the issues that come up, of course, is national standards, because we obviously have differences between provinces.
We have found that with some who have come here without a specific job but who have a qualification, there are some concerns about whether their credentials will be recognized. We've taken some steps to have a Foreign Credentials Referral Office that helps to refer these individuals to the appropriate agency—and there are over 400 of them as well—to have their credentials assessed.
We've introduced a program called the provincial nominee program, which allows the provinces to nominate the people they need for their economy. We allow them to nominate these people, and we simply look at the security and health aspect. We find that when the province brings them in, they're likely to integrate into the community and to stay there.
We've also found that the temporary foreign workers, or the guest workers as you call them, have looked for a pathway to become permanent residents. We have said that makes some sense from the point of view that they're already here, they have experienced some of our culture, and they have integrated in one fashion or another. We're looking at pathways to make them permanent residents.
We have something called the Canadian experience class that we're experimenting with. We're saying that for certain skilled workers and foreign students, we'll provide a pathway for them to become permanent residents from within Canada.
I'll just finish with a brief note. I was wondering if you had any comments about finding a pathway for temporary foreign workers, and if you had any questions.
I can say that a lot of people express concerns about our system being complex, that it may be difficult for newcomers to comprehend fully, and that the wait time to get in is far too long, which has been a general complaint. We are trying to address that.
Mr. Chair and committee members, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on UNHCR's efforts to address the humanitarian needs of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. For some of you who are not familiar with UNHCR's work, I will start with a few words about who we are and what we do.
UNHCR is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and find solutions to refugee problems worldwide. The 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees are the foundation of our work to help and protect the world's refugees.
While our primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees, UNHCR's work has expanded to include vulnerable groups such as the internally displaced and stateless people. We are working in 117 countries and help an estimated 32.9 million persons, with an annual budget of more than $1 billion.
I now turn to the situation in Iraq. UNHCR estimates that more than 4.7 million Iraqis have left their homes, and many remain in dire need of humanitarian care. Of these, more than 2.7 million Iraqis are displaced internally, do not have access to social services, and are barely surviving in makeshift camps that are inaccessible to aid workers for security reasons.
More than two million Iraqis have fled to neighbouring states, particularly Syria and Jordan. Some were displaced prior to 2003, but the largest number has fled since that time. Syria hosts 1.5 million Iraqi refugees, which represents 10% of the total population of Syria. In Jordan, we estimate the number of Iraqi refugees to be more than 500,000, of whom half are believed to be school-aged children.
Today, Iraqi nationals continue to leave their country. Restrictions on admission imposed by neighbouring countries limit the movement of those wishing to seek asylum. UNHCR's provisional asylum statistics for the year 2007 show that for the second year running, Iraqis top the list of asylum seekers in the world's industrialized countries. The number of Iraqis applying for asylum almost doubled in one year, from 22,900 in 2006 to 45,200 in 2007.
Iraqi asylum seekers in industrialized countries represent only 1% of the estimated 4.7 million Iraqis uprooted by the conflict. Canada has so far not experienced comparable surges in the number of Iraqi asylum seekers. For example, statistics from CIC show that during 2007, 293 Iraqis claimed asylum in Canada; there were 190 Iraqis in 2006.
Inside Iraq, UNHCR and its partners are trying to do as much as possible to help the displaced, even though security conditions make this difficult. We are providing emergency assistance to the neediest, visiting the accessible displacement sites or makeshift camps and providing non-food items and emergency shelter. In the region, UNHCR is focusing on preserving asylum space. The states surrounding Iraq face significant challenges due to the sheer volume of the displaced population.
I would like to call attention to the generosity of Syria and Jordan, who host the largest number of Iraqi refugees. This is placing a substantial strain on the economy and the societal infrastructure of Syria and Jordan.
UNHCR continues to appeal for more bilateral support, including from Canada, to Syria and Jordan, whose schools, hospitals, public services, and infrastructure are seriously overstretched. We are making every effort to ensure that Iraqi refugees in the region are protected, notably against detention and deportation. We also ensure that the basic humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees, including urgent medical cases, single-female-headed households, children, torture victims, and others are addressed, in cooperation with the government authorities and other partners. Registration has been an important step in identifying the most vulnerable.
In 2008, a UNHCR-commissioned survey of nearly 1,000 Iraqis currently staying in Syria has shown that 95% had fled their homeland because of direct threats or general insecurity and that only 4% currently had plans to return to Iraq. A total of 95% stated they had fled Iraq in recent years due to either direct threats, 65%, or general insecurity, 30%. The survey revealed that out of all those interviewed, only 39 out of 994 people, or 4%, are planning to return to Iraq. Of the 39 people, 31% plan to return within the next 12 months and the remainder have not set a date.
The following reasons were given by those not wishing to return: 61% stated that they are under direct threat in Iraq; 29% do not want to return because of the general insecurity in Iraq; 8% responded that their homes in Iraq had been destroyed or are currently occupied by others; 1% said they had no jobs in Iraq; and 1% said that they had no more relatives left at home.
UNHCR has greatly expanded its resettlement activities to respond to the Iraqi humanitarian situation and is seeking from states an increase in resettlement numbers. Last year more than 21,000 Iraqi resettlement cases were submitted by UNHCR to 16 governments for consideration, mainly to the United States, 15,477; Australia, 1,876; Canada, 1,515; Sweden, 938; and New Zealand, 266. The UNHCR target for 2008 is to submit an additional 25,000 cases for resettlement.
Despite our increased referral capacity, we are extremely concerned about the low rate of departures to date. In 2007, only a total of 4,826 Iraqis referred for resettlement actually left for resettlement countries. UNHCR continues to encourage resettlement countries to expedite their processing to enable the most vulnerable Iraqis to depart for resettlement as soon as possible, taking into account that there are still more than 80,000 to 90,000 extremely vulnerable Iraqi refugees in the Middle East in need of resettlement. More resettlement places are required.
Mr. Chair, committee members, regarding funding and pledges, in 2007 UNHCR issued three appeals aimed at helping countries in the region to cope with the humanitarian crisis.
The first appeal for $123 million U.S., issued in January, committed $41 million U.S. to Syria for humanitarian assistance.
The second appeal for $129 million U.S., jointly issued by the United Nations Children's Fund and UNHCR in July 2007, committed over $63 million U.S. to support the education sector.
A third appeal for $84,833,647 U.S., jointly issued by the United Nations Population Fund, UNHCR, the United Nations Children's Fund, the United Nations World Food Programme, and the World Health Organization in September 2007, aimed to address the urgent health needs of displaced Iraqis living in Jordan, Syria, and Egypt.
In January 2008, UNHCR appealed for $261 million U.S. for our work on behalf of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. A total of $40 million U.S. will be for Iraqis displaced inside the country. So far, we have received just under half that amount, which is not enough to keep our programs going during the second half of 2008.
Mr. Chair, committee members, in April 2007 UNHCR convened an international conference on Iraq. The main aims of the international conference were to sensitize the international community to the humanitarian impact of the violence and conflict in Iraq, to seek commitments to address the immediate and foreseeable needs, and to identify targeted responses to specific problems. Following this conference, Canada announced that it would accept another 500 Iraqi referrals in addition to the 900 persons it had already committed to accepting in 2007.
Canada has provided a contribution of $2.5 million Canadian in response to our first Iraq appeal issued in January 2007.
In 2008, Canada's response to the Iraqi crisis was twofold. On March 19, 2008, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration announced that Canada would receive between 1,800 and 2,000 Iraqi refugees in 2008. In terms of contributions, Canada has so far agreed to provide contributions amounting to $1.5 million Canadian towards our appeal for Iraq.
Mr. Chair, committee members, before I conclude, I would like to comment briefly on the plight of Palestinian refugees in Iraq. UNHCR remains very concerned about an estimated 15,000 Palestinians in Iraq who are under its mandate. Some 2,700 of them have been stranded for the past year in two camps at the Iraq-Syria border. Palestinians are under constant threat in Baghdad, while those in the makeshift border sites have recently reported increasing physical attacks and harassment.
In view of their dire condition and the difficulty they have leaving Iraq, UNHCR feels that humanitarian relocation to places of safety is their best option. Thus far, only Brazil, Chile, Canada, and the U.S.A. have indicated a willingness to provide solutions. UNHCR hopes for a greater response from other countries.
Let me now conclude these remarks by saying that UNHCR acknowledges all contributions that have been made so far to address the humanitarian situation faced by Iraqi refugees and IDPs. However, given the magnitude of the needs, we continue to appeal for increased and sustained financial contributions. We also urge the international community to provide bilateral assistance, including financial, technical, and in-kind aid, to host countries, including Jordan and Syria, to support basic services to Iraqi refugees.
UNHCR urges countries to help resettle those vulnerable refugees for whom this is the only solution. Canada is a strategic partner to UNHCR, and we remain deeply grateful to the government and people of Canada for their continuing support of UNHCR's humanitarian interventions worldwide. We all hope that the situation of displaced Iraqis will improve and that Canada will play its due role in alleviating their plight.
Mr. Chair, committee members, I thank you for having me here today.