Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and honourable members, for the opportunity to appear before the committee.
I don't profess to be an expert on the Yazidi crisis or their particular resettlement to date in Canada. I view my role here today as providing a broader overview on the context of Canada's resettlement program linked to some of the witnesses you've heard so far, and I want to make three connected points.
One point relates to the settlement needs of the Yazidis, which might be heightened, but they are representative of challenges faced by all newly arrived refugees. The second is that the response to date seems to be relatively an ad hoc privatization of that support by volunteer groups here in Canada. The connection of this to private sponsorship needs to be addressed. Finally, it's important to ensure that there is a global focus of Canada's resettlement program.
In reviewing the issues raised to the committee by other witnesses, these are issues that you've talked about this morning in terms of translation. Connection to the Yazidi community already in Canada, housing, delay in child benefit payments, case worker overload, and trauma support are challenges and issues that need to be addressed for all arriving refugees.
None of these issues is unique to Yazidi refugees, and they're a challenging component of resettlement. What the witnesses made apparent to me is the degree to which the government resettlement is dependent on Canadian volunteer support. One Free World International's brief noted that they're working to “bridge the gap in services” in Toronto. The work of both Project Abraham, also in the GTA, and Operation Ezra in Winnipeg seem to confirm this gap-filling need.
For me, while commending the amazing work of these organizations, it does raise concerns where volunteer gap fillers are not present. Even with Operation Ezra in Winnipeg, which I'm more familiar with, and the phenomenal work they are doing, the consequence is very differential treatment and support of Yazidi refugees they are working with than refugees, both government and privately sponsored, from from other regions arriving in our community.
The result is an ad hoc and differential treatment of resettled refugees under both the government and privately sponsored programs, as well as the blended visa office-referred program. Project Abraham's plea for the government to “make use of us” needs to be structured in a way that supports are not contingent on location or the strength and organization of this volunteer capacity.
One option here, I think, is a broader examination of the expansion and promotion of the joint assistance program. Project Abraham noted that they were struggling to access the JAS program. When individuals at Operation Ezra, already assisting 12 government-assisted refugee families, noted to me that they were advocating for a hybrid model of GAR support, I likewise raised the issue of the JAS program, which had not been immediately apparent to them.
The second point to make here is that these initiatives are illustrating a privatization of settlement support by Canadian volunteers. There's a connection to this, as it moves beyond private sponsorship. I think this is significant, particularly given the shifts in focus between government and private sponsorship already happening in Canada's resettlement program.
In the last few years we've seen private sponsorship at higher numbers than government resettlement refugees, which is a reversal from past years. In the projection for the immigration levels for the incoming three years, we see private sponsorship numbers at more than double the government-assisted refugees. Given these increased numbers to private sponsorship moving forward, it's important to recognize the pull of privatized Canadian support and to assess what this may do to the gap-filling capacity of private Canadians, as has been articulated with respect to the Yazidi refugees and their settlement.
It's also very likely that the so-called echo effect will play out here as resettled Yazidi refugees work to bring over their extended families and friends. You have heard indications of this from previous witnesses. Operation Ezra made note of the need for more sponsorship agreement holder spots for Yazidis, and other witnesses commented on the need to facilitate family reunification. This will most commonly occur through private sponsorship, although UNHCR has indicated it's receiving names directly from Canadian NGOs which would funnel into the GAR program. Thus, while only 60 Yazidis have come through PSR, these numbers are likely to increase.
Finally, as my third point, I want to reiterate comments you heard by the UNHCR representative.
The UNHCR has 17.2 million refugees under its mandate, and 189,000 were resettled in 2016. The UNHCR's 2018 projected global resettlement need is 1.2 million persons. Syrians compose 40% of this need, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at 12%, and the Central African Republic at 8%. Africa is the region with the highest resettlement needs, with over half a million refugees in need of resettlement from 34 different countries.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR has seen significant drops in resettlement commitments from the United States and some European states. While there is at times a need to focus on regions or groups in particular need, it's incumbent on Canada to maintain a global resettlement plan that relies on UNHCR needs prioritization to select those refugees most in need of resettlement.
It's important to note here that privately sponsored refugees do not necessarily come through UNHCR referrals, nor do they fall into these criteria-based selections.
Thank you for the invitation to appear today. I'd be happy to answer any questions.