Ottawa assessing ‘migration dynamics’ after massive earthquake kills thousands in Turkey, Syria  

By Cristin Schmitz

Law360 Canada (February 8, 2023, 12:52 PM EST) -- Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Ottawa is watching “very closely” to determine what the migration “dynamics” are following the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border that is known so far to have killed at least 11,000 people and injured tens of thousands more.  

Fraser told reporters on Parliament Hill Feb 7 “understanding whether a natural disaster like this will actually cause a migration crisis remains to be seen, but of course we watch very closely, and I should say not only from an immigration point of view, but also global affairs and international, to figure out what ... the best response may be.”

Fraser said as the situation “stands now, we’re watching the situation very closely, but we need to better understand the dynamics from a migration point of view before we understand what the best path forward will look like.”

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser

Added Fraser, “of course in 48 hours to put together plans to respond, when you’re dealing with an immigration system that over the course of Canada’s history has been designed to respond to massive displacement over a series of years, not a matter of hours, you can appreciate it may take some time to formulate the appropriate response.”

Asked what impact the earthquake, which struck in the early morning of Feb. 6, will have on getting out displaced Syrians in the hard-hit Syrian/Turkish border region, who had already applied for resettlement to Canada before the earthquake, Fraser responded “our goal is to facilitate the resettlement of people who are in the program as quickly as possible, with a focus on targeting the people who are most vulnerable first. Of course, a natural disaster that could potentially displace or harm people so significantly is [one of] the kinds of factors that we look at. But we need to better understand the actual impact on our clients before we can determine the best path forward.”

Referencing the federal government’s successful efforts since 2015 to resettle in Canada more than 40,000 Syrian refugees fleeing the armed conflict within their country, and the earthquake’s potential impact on existing applications from refugees to sponsor their families to come here, Fraser said the total number of Syrians is now closer to 80,000.

“We are trying to assess right now who is within Canada’s immigration program or who has designs on coming to determine whether they’ve been impacted” by the earthquake, he said. “We don’t have a full picture of that quite yet. I expect in the days ahead we will have a better understanding of whether people who are destined for Canada have been impacted, and what we might need to do differently to accommodate their needs.

“It’s too early to say with certainty exactly what that impact may be and what response may need to shift,” the immigration minister remarked. “But these are the things that over the next number of days and weeks, I think we’ll have a better handle on.”

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