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Ethiopian refugee deplores preferential treatment of Syrian migrants

Non-Syrian refugees’ plight shunned from spotlight

Refugees of other origins applaud Canada’s helping hand, but caution that Syrians are not alone in facing adversity at home.

 Solomon, an Ethiopian refugee who requested that his real name not be used, says Canadians should not forget that other refugees are fleeing persecution, too.COLE BURSTON / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Solomon, an Ethiopian refugee who requested that his real name not be used, says Canadians should not forget that other refugees are fleeing persecution, too.

Solomon didn’t face a welcoming committee with cameras clicking when he landed in Toronto as a refugee. Instead, he got a send-off.

Syrian refugee camp in Turkey

The smuggler who had brought him into the country gave him a lift into one of the city’s predominantly Ethiopian neighbourhoods, wished him well and left him to fend for himself.

With the help of his fellow countrymen, the 16-year-old found his way to a youth shelter, which then passed him off to other community organizations that were largely ill-equipped to help a newly arrived refugee seeking sanctuary in Canada.

His experience stands in stark contrast to the welcome offered to the thousands of Syrian refugees arriving in the country. The earliest arrivals were greeted by none other than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who offered them handshakes, hugs and winter apparel.

People fleeing the raging war in Syria went through an accelerated screening process before boarding flights that would take them to a country that has pulled out all the stops for their arrival. The medical care, transportation costs and warm national welcome are all readily available thanks to a Liberal government initiative targeted specifically toward Syrians.

Solomon, who requested that his real name not be used, applauds Canada for offering a helping hand to those fleeing persecution. But he also cautions that Syrians are not alone in facing adversity in their homelands.

“Our (Ethiopian) government has trouble distributing everything to the people,” he said in a telephone interview. “Apparently on paper we have what appears to be a democratic country, but when you live there it’s totally different.”

Differences lie at the heart of the concerns voiced by organizations supporting the thousands of refugees that seek asylum in Canada each year.

While they commend the government’s efforts to support a population in crisis, they lament that others in similar circumstances don’t have access to the same resources.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, fears recent government initiatives have created a two-tier system.

Gaining refugee status in Canada is a complex and bureaucratic process fenced about with rules, quotas and government restrictions.

Dench said many of those barriers have been removed as part of the Syrian refugee resettlement program. The country’s sponsorship agreement holders, for instance, are allowed to bring in as many Syrians as they wish while the number from other regions is still subject to government-imposed caps.

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