News / Vancouver

Vancouver council calls on feds to welcome 20,000 refugees annually

Council passed Mayor Gregor Robertson’s motion calling on the Government of Canada to accept more refugees from countries including Syria and Iraq.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson speaks at an event celebrating construction progress of the ISS of B.C.’s new refugee welcome house on Sept. 10, 2015.

Emily Jackson/Metro

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson speaks at an event celebrating construction progress of the ISS of B.C.’s new refugee welcome house on Sept. 10, 2015.

Vancouver city council will officially make a plea to the federal government to accept thousands more refugees, making it the first municipality in Canada to add its voice to a campaign advocating the country welcome 20,000 refugees per year by 2020.

Council voted Wednesday to approve Mayor Gregor Robertson’s motion to support the 20k2020 campaign. The motion also asked staff to look into ways Vancouver can more immediately help with the crises in Syria and Iraq.

As it stands, Canada welcomes fewer than 7,000 refugees per year.

“It becomes particularly noticeable when there’s a crisis like one in Syria right now,” Robertson said at council, adding the city has been flooded with calls from residents asking how they can help. “There’s clearly a huge demand for people wanting to do more, wanting the federal government to step up our numbers.”

Vancouver was spurred into action on the refugee file after the image of a lifeless Syrian toddler washed ashore a Turkish beach captured the world’s attention. More than 400 people attended a town hall on the topic last week.

Chris Friesen, director of settlement services at the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., told council it is “ironic and unfortunate” that it took the picture to generate “a long overdue debate in this country about Canada’s humanitarian program.”

Beforehand it was hard to get people to pay attention to refugees, who are often referred to as queue jumpers making bogus claims, he said. Yet there are 60 million refugees and internally displaced people worldwide.

“We have a crisis and there’s way more that we can do. I’m really encouraged by mayor and council’s support of this very important initiative,” he said.

Malcolm Atia, a refugee from Uganda who arrived in Canada only one week ago, told council about his experience fleeing his country, where he was beaten by a mob for being gay.  

“I’m not Syrian, but I’m a refugee, and I know what it feels like to be in a situation where you need help but you can’t get it,” Atia said. After two years at a Kenyan refugee camp, he was able to get to Canada with help from the United Nations.

Atia, who wants to study theatre arts, said he’s grateful to be in a place where he can be who he is.

When he saw rainbow flags while walking along Davie Street this weekend, he sat down and cried.

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