CANADA’s three main a curious game of one-upmanship during last year’s general election campaign. Each boasted that if they were elected they would bring in great numbers of Syrian refugees. The Conservatives pledged 10,000 over three years. The New Democrats said they would take in 10,000 by the end of the year and 9,000 annually after that. Both were trumped by the Liberal promise of 25,000 by January 1st. The Liberals won and hit their target on February 27th. This was two months late and they were only able to fulfill their promise because individual Canadians stepped forward to sponsor 11,000 of the total 26,166 Syrians who arrived after the new government took office on November 4th.
Private sponsorship of refugees began in Canada in 1978 amid another refugee crisis: the Indochinese fleeing from Vietnam after the war. Media coverage of desperate “boat people” helped overcome a public reluctance to deal with what was initially regarded as an American problem. After Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore said they could take no more people, Canada agreed to welcome 60,000 over three years, as long as each government-supported refugee was matched with one who was. By the end of of 1980, 60,049 had arrived under what was called Operation Lifeline; just over half were sponsored by private groups. Since then more than 200,000 have come to Canada under the programme. The conflict in Syria has set a similar chain of events in motion.