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  • Canada's Syrian Refugee Program, Intergroup Relationships and Identities
  • Michaela Hynie, Special Guest Editor (bio)

This decade has seen a rapid escalation in forced migration. Never before has the world seen so many people forcibly displaced, both within their countries, and across international borders (UNHCR 2017). Those who are displaced across international borders as a result of violence and/or persecution, and whose country of origin cannot, or will not, protect them, are refugees. Not only has the number of refugees increased, but so too has the length of displacement for those in protracted situations (Devictor and Do 2016). Unfortunately, the number of refugees who find permanent solutions to this displacement (integration in the country of asylum, return to the country of origin, or resettlement in a third country) make up a tiny proportion of those who are displaced; only 765,500 out of 22.5 million refugees in 2016 (or 3.5%) achieved a permanent solution, of whom only 189,300 were offered resettlement (UNHCR 2017). It is therefore important to examine the conditions under which a greater number of permanent solutions are made possible, as models that could be taken up more broadly. Canada's initiative to permanently resettle a relatively large number of Syrian refugees is one such example, with Canada's unique private sponsorship model being of particular interest internationally as a way of increasing resettlement opportunities.

The continuing conflict in Syria is just one of many current drivers of forced migration, but one that has displaced 6.6 million people internally, and 5.6 million across international borders in the past seven years (UNHCR 2018). In 2015, the newly elected Canadian federal Liberal government undertook a widely publicized initiative to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees under the slogan "Welcome Refugees." This initiative harkened back to the resettlement of 60,000 Indochinese refugees in Canada in 1979-1980, which marked the beginning of Canada's private sponsorship program (Labman 2016). Mirroring the earlier initiative, the Welcome Refugees program engaged large numbers of citizens, many as private sponsors, and garnered [End Page 1] broad media coverage, both in Canada and abroad. Between November, 2015, and February, 2017, more than 40,000 Syrians resettled across Canada, in over 350 communities. Almost a third were sponsored by private citizens or non-governmental organizations who provided financial and settlement support for the newcomers' first year (Government of Canada 2017). Simultaneously, at a time when attitudes towards refugees and immigrants are becoming increasingly hostile across Europe, the USA and Australia, Canadian attitudes towards migration are among the most positive in the world, with 92% of Canadians saying that where they currently live is a good place for immigrants to live. By comparison, 65% agree with this statement in other OECD countries (Environics Institute for Survey Research 2018). This special issue of Canadian Ethnic Studies/Études ethniques au Canada explores whether the Welcome Refugees resettlement initiative was made possible by the role that refugee resettlement plays in Canadian notions of identity and citizenship, and the implications this has for the relationships between established Canadians and Syrian newcomers to Canada.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Public Discourse

Discourses both supporting and rejecting refugees and asylum seekers rest on the co-creation of two identities: that of a refugee "other", and a national "self" (Bauder 2008). These constructions are nuanced by national identities and current political realities (Akbari and MacDonald 2014; Berry, Garica-Blanco and Moore 2016; Krzyżanowski, Triandafyllidou and Wodak 2018; Triandafyllidou 2018). Nonetheless, there are common themes that emerge, particularly across high-income countries that have been destinations for refugee resettlement and asylum, themes which have been affected by highly publicized and debated events. These discourses tend to focus on refugee identities rather than explicitly describing national identities, the latter of which are assumed to be in opposition or contrast to the refugee "other".

The Welcome Refugee initiative in Canada coincided with the time of the greatest increase in asylum requests in Europe and multiple deaths during Mediterranean crossings, from 2015 to 2016. Triandafyllidou (2018) identifies a critical discursive shift among political, media and civic society debates in European media coverage during this time. Discourse shifted...


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