Addressing the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen: Potential Policy Solutions for Canada

This project, “Addressing the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen: Potential Policy Solutions for Canada,” was developed by MPPGA students Citlali Cruz Cruz, Denby McDonnell, Guilherme Rosales, and Heather Park for the 2019 Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration (CAPPA) Case Competition.



Mass starvation. The world’s largest outbreak of cholera to date. Tens of thousands of displaced refugees from Yemen seeking asylum. What should Canada do for them? This was the question posed by the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration (CAPPA) Case Competition this year. Jointly organized by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) and CAPPA, the goal of this competition is to bring future policymakers and analysts currently studying public policy and administration at Canadian universities together, for a national-level competition to present solutions to a hypothetical case. Premised on a real-world public administration problem, this year the competition gave teams 7 days to research, analyze, and develop a policy solution for the Government of Canada to address acceptance and resettlement of Yemeni refugees.

This year’s case required teams to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen by determining how many Yemeni refugees Canada should admit, in addition to how refugees would be processed and resettled upon acceptance into the country. This included addressing various political hurdles, including provincially specific concerns, that Canada would face domestically surrounding immigration as a whole, in addition to addressing the currently existing backlog of refugees from Syrian refugee resettlement efforts.

On February 23rd, 2019 UBC’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs team (comprised of first year Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs students Citlali Cruz Cruz, Denby McDonnell, Guilherme Rosales, and Heather Park), presented a 30-minute briefing to a panel of 8 judges with their policy solution for Canada’s response to the Yemeni refugee crisis. The following is an outline of the proposed “Strategic Response Program” researched and developed by the UBC team. While the case utilized for the competition was hypothetical, the real-world policy implications and takeaways for a potential solution to future processing of refugees fleeing humanitarian crises by Canada can be considered. The policy issue of absorbing refugees and addressing mass global migration remains a relevant policy consideration by countries worldwide. What follows are short testimonials and a written report outlining the team’s policy solution presentation.


It was an intensive week of literature review, informal/formal interviews, cost-benefit analysis and economic analysis. We learned what almost amounted to a course worth of material on the Canadian immigration system and put our skills we were learning in class to practice. Just like anything in life, especially for a polished presentation, practice makes perfect! One big learning experience was noting that while implementation is important, it is easy to get caught up in it. Cost benefit and data analysis need to be a greater focus, especially if a policy groups plan is beyond an incremental strategy.

– Guilherme Rosales, MPPGA Student


Having the opportunity to participate in this competition gave me hands-on experience applying policy process approaches and frameworks learned in first year MPPGA courses, to a practical simulation. One key takeaway from the experience was how some aspects of the policy process are often forgone or given less consideration as a result of political and economic priorities. Additionally, the experience gave me insight into what I might expect from the Global Policy Project process next year. Our coach, Professor George Hoberg, highlighted how committed MPPGA faculty are to the success of students, especially in his support and mentorship throughout the process!

– Heather Park, MPPGA Student

The Case Presentation

Background in Yemen and Lessons Learned from Syria

Yemen is currently experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. People are experiencing mass starvation, and the world’s largest modern outbreak of cholera, which have collectively caused a surge in internally displaced persons.  Humanitarian aid has been blocked from entering the country. This has led many people to seek asylum in other countries.[1]

Domestically, Canada has various challenges and hurdles to overcome before being able to assist in this humanitarian crisis. Canada is facing a strain on its system to resettle refugees in a timely and effective manner.  There are political tensions emanating from the provinces, who are cautious in assisting in any new humanitarian efforts without a clear and detailed plan of action. Finally, the current political mood amongst Canadians is waning in further assisting in other humanitarian efforts, according to some public opinion polls.

The first Syrian refugee wave was the key to understanding the main challenges for the Canadian government to address when considering how many Yemeni refugees to admit.[2] One takeaway was a need for sufficient time to plan in order to be able to meet the needs of refugees upon arrival in Canada. This would require better access to basic information, such as family size and health issues, of incoming refugees. A second takeaway was a lack of coordination between different levels of government, alongside a lack of communication with private settlement agencies addressing humanitarian crises. Lastly, there was a lack of capacity to collect information to monitor refugee resettlement, and ultimate success of social and economic integration efforts.[3]

The Policy Problem

Canada’s limited administrative capacity inhibits effective and timely resettlement of Yemeni refugees fleeing from a humanitarian crisis.

Policy Proposal: “Strategic Response Program”

Our policy proposal consists of two parts, which together make up our “Strategic Response Program”. The first part, “restructure procedure” focuses on addressing the current backlog and implementing incremental acceptance of refugees.[4] The second part, “renew resettlement” focuses on increasing private sponsorship and improving economic integration of refugees.

Part 1 of the Strategic Response Program: Restructure Procedure

Policy 1A: Address the current backlog

There has been an increasing acceptance of asylum claims from inland immigrants and migrants, such as refugees, from outside of Canada. However, the current processing process has been questioned by the media and academics since it is inefficient and creates a growing backlog, thereby deteriorating the reputation of the Canadian government in its ability to deal with immigration issues. We point to the need for amending the current immigration law that establishes all in-land claimants should pass through an oral hearing. This current process has created wait times of 2+ years, so our recommendation is to hold oral hearings only for those claims that have been refused by the immigration authorities as part of an appealing process. Additionally, in order to increasingly incentivize private sponsorship of refugees, which have proven successful in providing economic and social support for previously resettled refugees, we recommend eliminating the requirement of confirming “refugee status” for sponsored relatives of refugees already in Canada. The elimination of status verification would speed up the current process for privately sponsored refugees, which currently takes 3+ years. Addressing the backlog would improve the perception Canadian citizens have of the inability of the Government of Canada to address humanitarian crises by accepting refugees.[5]

Policy 1B: Incremental Acceptance

During our research, we were able to engage with Chris Friesen, director of Immigration Services Society (ISS) of BC, the main service facilitating and assisting in refugee settlement in BC. After the acceptance of many Syrian refugees, one major issue communicated to us by the ISS was the lack of time service providers were given to prepare for the initial wave of refugees. This lack of time to prepare for the incoming Syrian refugees diminished the ability of the ISS and other service providers to give refugees effective support and access to services. To resolve this issue, we recommend a policy that proposes a 3-month time preparation window for all organizations, in conjunction with the incremental acceptance of refugee numbers, so settlement services are not overloaded. This would improve the ability for refugees to access key integration services, such as language programs and housing assistance, which are instrumental for effective social and economic integration, and long-term resettlement success of all refugees in Canada.

Part 2 of the Strategic Response Program: Renew Resettlement

Policy 2A: Increasing Private Sponsorship

The second part of our Strategic Response Program, “renewing resettlement” recommends increasing private sponsorship of refugees. Currently, the private sponsorship program in Canada has had some success. To build on and expand upon this success, we recommend an enhanced advertising campaign across Canada in conjunction with a tax incentive to foster increased participation by potential private sponsors. Our goal is to increase private sponsorship intake to be able to absorb half of all Yemeni refugees being accepted into Canada (12,500 privately sponsored, 25,000 total).

Currently, the majority of private sponsors do not receive any tax deductible. Claims have been made in the media that more Canadians would participate in the program if there was a tax incentive. We also recommend the creation of a charitable tax credit for anyone who becomes a private sponsor. Since sponsoring a refugee is humanitarian good deed, it should be viewed as such through the reward of a charitable tax credit (as opposed to a regular income tax deductible). This will allow the provinces to work with the federal government on adjusting charitable tax credit rates if they so choose, as these rates vary from province to province, thus promoting a province specific approach to private sponsorship. A charitable tax credit is preferable to an income tax deductible, because an income tax deductible would mean the government would have to create a new deductible line item, compared to a charitable tax credit which is more time efficient as it is already an established deductible.[6]

Policy 2B: Economic Integration

The economic integration component of the renewal of resettlement services encompasses the areas of regional housing, language learning, and expanding employment.

Regional Housing

Our recommendation is to implement construction of modular housing on public lands. This would foster coordination with provincial and municipal governments in instances where federal land is not available. Rent would be paid to host provinces and municipalities as added financial incentive to accommodate refugees in their communities. To account for the criteria of time, construction of modular housing takes 3 months, which would coincide with the 3 month preparation window before the first influx of Yemeni refugees. The construction of modular housing would also generate jobs. In Vancouver, BC modular housing has been successfully implemented to assist in addressing the lack of affordable housing for low income citizens. A lack of affordable housing is a common issue in large Canadian cities, like Toronto and Vancouver, which would impact availability of housing for refugees. To mediate competition for affordable housing between long term Canadian residents and incoming refugees, and account for public opinion which may perceive refugees as an added strain on an already unaffordable housing market, creating a separate housing supply of modular homes would provide a housing alternative for refugees that still enables them to live in larger cities, which is critical for economic and social integration efforts as opposed to isolating them in more affordable areas on outer city limits and more rural regions.[7]

In Vancouver alone, current modular housing projects are projected to create between 8000-9000 jobs in their construction over a 5 year period. The success of modular housing is something we believe could be replicated on a national scale in many different provinces. Added strengths of modular housing is the virtue of being a re-deployable option. In the event modular homes were no longer needed for Yemeni refugees, they could be disassembled and stored as stock for future use in the Strategic Response Program, serve as more permanent general low-income housing, or be utilized in the event of a natural disaster or crisis where additional housing was needed as a short-term solution. One of the biggest barriers to economic and social integration by refugees, evidenced through the Syrian refugee crisis, is having a permanent address. This is critical for getting children into schools and being able to apply for jobs. With respect to the criterion of cost, financially, modular home construction is more cost effective long term than putting refugees in hotels (see Cost-Benefit Analysis for details).

Language Learning

A common experience by previously resettled Syrian refugees in BC was an inability to access government funded language learning services within the 1 year period of free access offered by the Government of Canada. After consulting IRES workers in Vancouver, we were shocked to learn long waiting lists meant many refugees were unable to access any service prior to expiration of this free period. To improve access to language services when refugees benefit the most (upon initial arrival), we recommend a blended learning format of online and in-person language classes. This would make use of already existing government programming through the Language Portal of Canada as well as exploring private partnerships with language service providers. By mitigating demand for in-person resources, language services would be accessible to a larger number of refugees, with the added benefit of portability and accessibility from home. Many refugees have children, posing a common barrier to accessing language services in addition to long waitlists. Reducing language barriers associated with finding employment and interacting with those in the community would foster greater economic and social integration, in addition to being more cost effective by expanding language service access without added financial cost of expanding in-person resources which bear high costs for infrastructure costs of host buildings for classes and paying instructors.

Expanding Employment

Improving access to language services aims to reduce barriers to employment for refugees in entry level jobs typically filled by refugees. Additionally, we recommend promoting coding programming access for refugees. According to Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada, a set goal for tech related jobs in the Canadian economy is to grow employment by 40% by 2025. Our recommendation to expand options for employment through promoting coding programming for refugees would aim to fill this employment gap in the tech sector. Coding in particular has high potential to be a successful source of employment for refugees because coding is a “universal language” that is more easily learned than English for French, in a shorter amount of time. This would give refugees the opportunity to more meaningfully contribute to the country’s economy by making use of their underutilized human capital which is often disregarded as a result of language barriers to employment or issues with transferability of professional credentials from country to country.[8]

In BC alone, more than 100,000 job openings in the tech sector are projected in the next 10 years. Half of those jobs would be the result of continued economic growth – providing strong evidence that the Canadian economy can support and absorb an influx of refugees due to continued economic growth and expansion of jobs in sectors such as tech. This is especially true when we account for the Baby Boomer generation aging out of the workforce, creating a need to fill spots in the labour market in entry level and non-entry level jobs alike, making refugees a valuable source of workforce employment to tap into. Refugee coding programs have had proven success in the US and Germany, with the cost mainly incurred by private partners in the tech sector, as well as non-profit organizations. In Canada, the non-profit “Code for Canada” already exists, but has limited funding. Providing funding to Canadian coding initiatives would expand their impact. This programming is currently available to all Canadian citizens, so in accounting for public opinion about providing job opportunities only to refugees, Canadians also have the ability to access and explore employment opportunities in coding. Even if program participants did not find employment in the tech sector, completion of the program would equip participants with transferable soft skills which might help them find employment in other sectors which they might already possess, but are not recognized as qualified Canadian professional credentials.

Public Opinion and Political Risk

Canada’s identity as a global humanitarian country is deeply embedded in our country’s social structure, major institutions, and collective memory. This is reflective of a large aging demographic, which is being slowly replaced by a younger generation that has grown up with high immigration levels, and a resulting high overall acceptance of refugees. The majority of Canadians do not believe there is “too much immigration” according to a poll by the Environics Institute last year. Support for immigration, particularly refugees, is most widespread in BC where many Syrian refugees were previously resettled. When polled about the most salient issue facing Canadians, immigration and refugees was not even in the top 5. Economy was first, followed by the environment and health care. There was only a 1% increase from 2017 in the percentage of Canadians polled who identified immigration and refugees as a salient issue – despite doubled flows from 2017 (24,000 to 50,000). It is important to note 40% of that increased flow was from land claims at the Canada-US border. On this point, there has been increasing division in public opinion surrounding “legitimacy” of the status of refugees, especially those making land claims at the Canada-US border. This is the main distinction our communications campaign is aimed at establishing.[9]

Communications Strategy

The federal government communications strategy must be context specific – reflecting provincial politics, service providing organizations, and local implementation. We see a communications strategy as a partnership, funded by the federal government and led by the provinces. Supporting Yemeni refugees will require significant efforts towards social cohesion, private sponsorship, and provision of services that will enable families and children to achieve their potential. Syrian refugees were accepted by communities and settled throughout BC. Ensuring the best opportunity for refugees requires community involvement and contextually valued information, supporting lasting socioeconomic success among Canadians, whether newly resettled, settled, or Indigenous.


Canada is still viewed as a global leader in humanitarian efforts. Most Canadians have showed a welcoming response towards past refugee waves, and have demonstrated this support through participation in private sponsorship programs. However, a lack of preparedness to provide resettlement services, increasing processing and administrative backlogs, as well as absence of a long term plan, have all contributed to a deterioration in positive perception by the Canadian public of the Government of Canada’s ability to address the policy issue of immigration – namely surrounding acceptance of refugees. This threatens to compromise Canada’s ability to fulfill its established role as a global humanitarian leader.

Our Strategic Response Program in aiming to address the Yemeni Refugee Crisis, provides a framework to be mobilized for any future humanitarian crises through:

  1. i) Guaranteeing capacity for a prepared timely response to humanitarian crises in the short and long term;
  2. ii) Gathering and communicating salient information on refugees prior and during their arrival for more effective and efficient provision of resettlement services across all organizations involved in the immigration process;

iii) Monitoring and evaluating refugee needs in the short and long term;

  1. iv) Incorporating technology as a means to provide and assist in resettlement efforts at a lower cost;
  2. v) Utilizing a communications strategy to promote and reinforce wider public support for private sponsorship and refugee assistance;
  3. vi) Outlining a re-deployable framework for any future humanitarian crises.