Thank you very much.
I'd like to welcome all the committee members to Winnipeg. You brought some nice weather with you, and we appreciate it.
We want to talk about the situation in Iraq and why we feel that Canada is really not taking its responsibilities. We would hope the committee would look a little more carefully at what is going on in Iraq.
Three momentous events have taken place in the last few days. One is that it's the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq; two, the American casualties have reached 4,000; three, the Iraqi civilian casualties that can be counted have reached 90,000. These numbers are probably one-tenth of the injuries and morbidity, rather than just deaths, happening in that country.
The interesting thing is, yesterday's New York Times reported that the number of civilian casualties in March had gone up 43% from casualties in February. Basically, the idea that Iraq is becoming a safer place seems to be belied by the facts.
Recently, more than a million Iraqis have crossed the border into Syria, and more than a million have crossed the border into Jordan. The Syrians, it is my understanding, and the Jordanians have now closed the borders. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is having a terrible time trying to screen the refugees in both these places.
Another thing they're finding, from my reports, from people I talk to in UNHCR, is that one in nine people who were being screened in Syria were found to have cancer and various kinds of leukemia, etc., which one could guess—and people in UNHCR are guessing—is attributable to depleted uranium bullets being used in Iraq.
The point I'm trying to make is that Iraq is not a safe place to return to. People in the Iraqi community here are very concerned about their relatives. One of the things that is happening is, because of the lawlessness in the country and the fact that there is no real government in control—the al-Maliki government is not in control, as a matter of fact—that Iraq has declined to a state worse than Yugoslavia was.
When Tito was in Yugoslavia, you had a unified nation, where Serbs, Bosnians, and Croatians all lived together and somehow managed. Prior to the U.S. invasion, you had a secular dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, where Shias, Sunnis, Christians, and the few Jews who were left managed to remain in that country and stay together. Since the Saddam dictatorship was overthrown and Saddam was killed, the country has broken into sectarian divisions, where it seems the Sunnis are being supported by the Americans and the al-Maliki government, and the Shia majority is being supported by the Mahdi army and by various other religious fanatics. You have a country in a different—and worse, probably—situation from Yugoslavia's. With Yugoslavia, at least you had some definitive borders. What you have in Iraq is the same kind of sectarian situation, but without any defined borders and without any control.
The people who have gone to Syria and to Jordan are now in a position where the Syrian government, it's my understanding, is telling people they can stay for six months. Then they have to pay to renew; otherwise they go back. They have no place to go back to. You have, basically, the Kurdish north, which is reasonably safe. You then have situations in Baghdad that are an absolute disaster, not only militarily, but because of the criminal element, kidnappings, etc.
One of the things that has also happened, as happens in many of these cases, is that the intelligensia—the college professors, the professionals—are the ones being targeted by both the sectarian militias and by the criminal elements, with kidnapping, etc., and they are the ones who very often have fled into Jordan and Syria. And the diaspora will continue.
To my understanding, the situation in Canada is that the government has said that Canada has a quota of 700. That is what Canada will take. The Iraqi community in Canada is appalled, and I think any Canadian who has any sense of morality should be appalled, by the minuscule number of 700. There are millions out there.
Canada has a role. Canada can take a role. I think the political decision...because the Americans are trying to convince the world--falsely--that the situation is turning around, that it's getting better, that it's going to be safe for people to return to Iraq. I think the facts belie that. The reality is that Canada should be doing more.
One thing Canada should be doing, very simply, is at least expediting the reuniting of families where there are Iraqi Canadians in this country. Throughout this country, people like Hani should be able to be reunited with their family members. We should expedite brothers and sisters, etc., being able to come to Canada rather than having them go through the private sponsorship program.
I would hope that the committee would recommend to the government the following: one, increase the quota; two, allow the Iraqi Canadian community in Canada to have some say and some input into who gets in; three, increase the resources in Damascus considerably to be able to expedite the movement of people who are now facing incredibly harsh situations in Syria and Jordan; and four, assist the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees with funds, and possibly even the seconding of staff, to be able to allow them to process the people more quickly, to be able to feed the people who are coming across the border, and also now to be able to look at the internally displaced within Iraq who are being rejected at the borders of Syria and Jordan and are being forced to stay in Iraq, to make it a country where you can have protection from inland displacement.
I would strongly urge the committee to give serious consideration to the situation there. Canada can take a role, and we believe Canada should take a role. It would be the moral thing to do. It would be the right thing to do. Also, the Iraqi Canadians in this country would bless this government and this country if it took a more expeditious role in protecting their relatives.
Thank you very much for allowing me this time. I would be open to any questions.