Canada's Middle East engagement strategy

Over the course of five years, between 2016 and 2021, Canada is investing up to $3.5 billion to respond to the crises in Iraq and Syria, and address their impact on Lebanon, Jordan and the region.

Humanitarian assistance: helping those most affected

Canada’s humanitarian assistance helps those most in need through experienced humanitarian partners following the principles of:

  • humanity
  • neutrality
  • impartiality
  • independence

Canada is focusing on helping the people most impacted by the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, including refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon.

In 2019, Canada announced the two-year renewal of the Middle East Strategy. We have committed up to $1.4 billion over five years (2016-2021) to provide gender-responsive humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable conflict-affected populations in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan.

We work through experienced partners on the ground including UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the International Red Cross/Red Crescent movement. Our partners ensure the specific needs and priorities of vulnerable and marginalized individuals are integrated into the response and support the participation and empowerment of women and girls.

In 2019-2021, Canada will focus our humanitarian assistance on three priorities:

Providing lifesaving gender-responsive assistance to help meet basic needs

Over 21 million people still require humanitarian assistance in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. Years of conflict and displacement have resulted in the loss of livelihoods for breadwinners and more female-headed households. Across the region, economic insecurity and a restrictive work environment for refugees, alongside the physical isolation of some populations, has resulted in limited access to food, shelter and other basic needs.

Our humanitarian assistance is supporting the most vulnerable families to meet daily household needs through food, cash and voucher transfers. Through these mechanisms, our support enables people to make their own decisions on how best to meet their basic needs while also supporting local markets. Providing women with cash transfers directly helps to empower women as decision-makers within their families.

Provision and access to social and public services

Conflicts disrupt basic social and public services. Whether it is damaged schools, water systems or health clinics, we are supporting experienced humanitarian partners throughout the region to improve access to public services.

With our support, crisis-affected populations are benefiting from:

  • access to clean water and sanitation
  • physical and mental health services
  • psychosocial support for victims of violence and conflict
  • education for children and adolescents whose learning has been disrupted by conflict and displacement

Our partners recognize that all activities must consider the specific social, cultural, and protection needs of women and girls. We support projects such as the construction of separate latrines for men and women, with sufficient safety measures such as locks and lighting to help meet immediate needs and reduce the risk of sexual and gender-based violence.

Meeting the specific needs, priorities and capacities of vulnerable and marginalized people

The needs and rights of women and girls continue to be at the heart of our assistance. Our Feminist International Assistance Policy and Global Affairs Canada’s Gender Equality in Humanitarian Action Policy recognizes humanitarian assistance is more effective if the specific needs, capacities and priorities of vulnerable and marginalized groups are integrated into the humanitarian response.

We are supporting access to critical sexual and reproductive health services through safe spaces and mobile health clinics that integrate specialized care for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Women and girls can be agents of change and powerful advocates for determining and meeting the needs of communities and families. We are supporting initiatives that integrate adolescent girls as well as women’s organisations into the humanitarian response.

Development assistance: building resilience

Canada’s development assistance is providing longer-term support to build the capacity of governments, communities, and households in Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon. In Syria, our programming targets community-level projects focusing on women’s empowerment. These efforts across the region are helping communities withstand and recover from the shocks and stresses caused by the crises.

Region-wide, development programming aligns with our Feminist International Assistance Policy and National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. In addition, Canada’s engagement in the Middle East supports commitments to the G7 Charlevoix Declaration on Quality Education for Girls, Adolescent Girls and Women in Developing Countries, and the Whistler Declaration on Unlocking the Power of Adolescent Girls for Sustainable Development.

Combined with Canada’s humanitarian, security and stabilization assistance, our longer-term development programming will help:

  • improve the living conditions of conflict-affected people in the region, particularly for women and girls
  • provide gender-responsive social services and access to quality education
  • reduce tensions and build social cohesion
  • improve governance and longer-term institution building

We are committing up to $470 million over five years (2016-2021) in development assistance. This focuses on Iraq, a country in need of stabilizing after years of conflict, Jordan, and Lebanon, which have borne the destabilizing effects of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, including hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees.

This assistance has four priority areas:

  • empowering women and girls and advancing gender equality
  • supporting effective and accountable governance
  • improving the quality and sustainability of gender-responsive social services (including education)
  • fostering economic growth that works for everyone (e.g. vocational and business training, innovative financing, and entrepreneurship training)

Empowering women and girls and advancing gender equality

Women and girls in the Middle East are generally more disadvantaged compared to those in other middle-income countries. Conflicts in Iraq and Syria have diminished the meaningful participation of women in all spheres and have intensified gender-based violence. Empowering women and girls and advancing gender equality is the core of our development assistance. This is instrumental to achieving more inclusive institutions and longer-term stability.

To do this, our assistance is supporting women’s active engagement in political, social, and economic development. This includes providing training for key female leaders and strengthening governance systems to ensure women’s voices are heard and priorities are addressed. In Jordan and Iraq, we are helping ensure that women and girls not only have improved access to municipal services, but that they are fully included in planning and ongoing decision-making.

Our development programming targets efforts to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence. We are training health managers to deliver effective sexual and reproductive health services and supporting women and girls to advocate for justice for violations of their rights, including against sexual and gender-based violence.

In line with UN Security Council Resolution 1325, development programming is also helping to improve women’s role in peace and security. This includes efforts to assist Jordan and Iraq as they implement their own National Action Plans on Women, Peace, and Security and by working to improve women’s participation in governance, reconciliation and peace processes.

Supporting effective and accountable governance

The governments of Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon require strategies, plans and programs to address the current and future crises and strains facing their countries. Much of the region’s basic infrastructure (such as roads, schools and waste management) and natural resources (such as water) have been destroyed, damaged or under immense pressure due to violent conflict or large movements of displaced persons. Our development programming is helping local institutions (such as ministries and municipal authorities) to build, maintain and rehabilitate infrastructure and manage natural resources in a more sustainable and equitable manner.

We are supporting the innovative Global Concessional Financing Facility. This allows the governments of Jordan and Lebanon to access low-interest loans for critical investments in large-scale infrastructure projects. These projects address the development needs of both refugee populations and local host communities, such as wastewater and transportation infrastructure.

This builds the resilience of these countries against the physical, economic, and social shocks of the refugee crisis and helps ensure the longer-term well-being of vulnerable populations within their borders. In Jordan, we are helping municipalities respond to the impacts of Syrian refugee inflows and the needs of local populations through improved infrastructure development and management.

Local institutions must also be able to support and respond to the needs and aspirations of the local population. In Iraq, we are helping improve the effectiveness and accountability of governance by sharing expertise in federalism. This includes models and best practices for managing fiscal relations between all levels of government. We are also working to strengthen the voices of key female leaders and to enhance the role of women in decision-making. Addressing these issues is helping to target ongoing sources of tension.

Improving the accessibility, quality and sustainability of gender-responsive social services (including education)

Vital basic services, such as education, health, water, and sanitation are facing tremendous strains due to:

  • ongoing conflict
  • millions of refugees and displaced persons
  • limited and/or weak capacity
  • economic shocks

If these systems can be strengthened and made more resilient to ongoing and future crises, the individuals and communities who depend on them will be more able to resist the negative effects of crises.

Our support to improve access to quality services focuses on the most vulnerable, in particular women and girls. In Syria, we are helping with women’s vocational training and livelihoods supports. We are supporting research into women’s access to housing, land and property rights inside Syria.

Canadian development assistance is also supporting system-wide strengthening of the public education systems in both Lebanon and Jordan. We support projects that strengthen the ministries of education, improve teacher training, and improve school environments. This ensures that every child, regardless of nationality, has access to quality formal education.

In Jordan, our assistance is helping improve the development and implementation of gender-sensitive school improvement plans countrywide, and to promote women’s participation in governance at municipal and community levels. Our efforts will help build the capacity of government institutions to deliver services that are responsive to the needs of conflict-affected populations, especially women and refugees.

We are helping ensure that education is delivered in a gender-responsive manner and that safe learning spaces are available for both girls and boys. We are also seeking to ensure that specialized services and equipment are available to address the needs of girls and boys with disabilities and in need of psychosocial support.

Fostering economic growth that works for everyone, including equitable employment

The crises in the region have contributed to a collapse in economic activity, macroeconomic instability, and a dramatic increase in unemployment. Our development assistance is responding by fostering entrepreneurship, skills development and job generation, particularly for women and youth.

To support efforts to increase women’s participation in the labour force, we have funded the Mashreq Gender Technical Assistance Facility. This will help Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan develop and implement country-level National Action Plans for Women’s Economic Empowerment. Projects provide funding and technical support for strategic regional activities.

In Jordan, Canadian development assistance focuses on promoting female participation in the labour force (for example, through improving policies and day-care services in the private sector) and growing the country’s renewable energy sector. In Iraq, projects aim to identify legal barriers and constraints affecting women’s ability to work. In Syria, Canada contributes to programming that helps female-headed households promote self-reliance and autonomy.

Enhancing the security and stabilization of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon

Canada is an active and committed member of the Global Coalition against Daesh. We invested up to $269 million over five years in stabilization and security programming. This is a significant contribution to the Global Coalition’s efforts to dismantle and ultimately defeat Daesh, counter violent extremism, restore stability, and promote regional security.

Canada is also a leading contributor to the NATO Mission Iraq. We assumed command of the mission and contribute up to 250 Canadian Armed Forces personnel to support NATO’s efforts to advance long-term stability and security in Iraq.

Stabilization programming

Our engagement includes supporting the Global Coalition’s stabilization efforts in Iraq and Syria, as well as preventing any destabilizing spill-over into Lebanon and Jordan.

Through the Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOPs), Canada seeks to enhance stability, address drivers of conflict and promote accountability for international crimes.

In Iraq, our stabilization efforts line up with the key priorities of the Global Coalition, including support for the United Nations Development Program’s Funding Facility for Stabilization, clearance of explosive remnants of war, and support to the Iraqi police. Geographically, our stabilization efforts focus on the Iraqi provinces of Anbar and Ninewah, where stabilization needs are significant due to Daesh control and influence prior to liberation. PSOPs has contributed to helping restore:

  • essential services and civil security reconciliation
  • conflict prevention
  • accountability

Canada works with a variety of partners including UN agencies, international and local NGOs, as well as other members of the Coalition. We also work closely with the Government of Iraq and Iraqi civil society to support the development and implementation of the second Iraqi National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security.

In Syria, we are working to save lives by supporting emergency response and early warning systems. Canada is also seeking to give voice to ordinary Syrians, particularly women, by strengthening civil society, supporting dialogue and empowering women to play a greater role in Syrian politics.

In Lebanon, PSOPs is supporting the Lebanese government’s efforts to improve its state security services and make justice accessible to all. The goal is to reduce social tensions between the Lebanese hosts and refugees and build positive relationships within communities.

We are also deploying Canadian police officers within Coalition military structures to provide advice to local Iraqi security forces and training to civilian police.

Security programming

Canada is providing support and resources to our partners in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon as well as to the Global Coalition in order to stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, to cut off terrorists’ access to financing, and to counter violent extremist narratives.

In Iraq, through Global Affairs Canada’s Counter-Terrorism Capacity Building Program (CTCBP), we are providing training to law enforcement officials to uphold the rule of law and human rights standards, as well as supporting initiatives to facilitate the prosecution of foreign terrorist fighters. We are also providing support to local actors active in promoting positive alternative narratives to counter existing or emerging violent extremist messaging.

In Lebanon, we are providing training and support to the Lebanese Armed Forces through the CTCBP to prevent terrorist activity and to enhance security and defensive capabilities along the Syrian-Lebanese border. Canada is also working with civil society and NGOs in Lebanon in order to reduce tensions in refugee-hosting communities, and to prevent prison radicalization. We are also supporting initiatives to counter violent extremism by enabling local credible actors to develop narratives that offer alternatives to violent extremist messaging.

In Jordan, we are focused on strengthening the capacity of police, military and intelligence institutions, as well as helping the Jordanian Armed Forces secure their border with Syria against terrorist threats. Canada’s support also includes enhancing the role of women in critical incident response capacities in the Jordanian Gendarmerie.  We are also supporting initiatives to prevent and counter violent extremism, including through targeted trainings with Jordanian mothers and community leaders to help them recognize early signs of violent extremism in their homes or communities.

Through our Weapons Threat Reduction Program, we are working to counter the acquisition and use of weapons and materials of mass destruction (WMD). We are contributing to improving the ability of governments to respond to WMD incidents, and minimizing their impact on their populations.

Canada is one of the largest contributors to the global efforts to combat the chemical weapons threat in Syria. This includes funding to assist in the destruction of chemical weapons and support for investigation, verification, and monitoring related to chemical weapons use in Syria.

We are also assisting the governments of Jordan and Iraq to enhance their capability to prevent, detect, and respond to incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear material, including countering the smuggling of illicit materials.

Military efforts

As the situation in Iraq evolves, military efforts continue to play an important role in setting the necessary conditions for long-term stability. Canada has extended Operation IMPACT, the Canadian Armed Forces contribution to the Global Coalition against Daesh and the NATO Mission Iraq, until March 31, 2021.

Under Operation IMPACT, the Canadian Armed Forces will continue to provide training, advice, and assistance to the Iraqi security forces, and support the Global Coalition and NATO with highly skilled personnel. It will also continue to support efforts to advise Iraqi officials in building more effective and sustainable defence and security institutions, and provide capabilities to regional forces. This includes the authority to:

  • deploy up to 850 Canadian Armed Forces personnel in support of the Global Coalition, NATO Mission Iraq, and capacity building activities with the Jordanian Armed Forces and Lebanese Armed Forces
  • provide tactical aircraft and helicopters to support commitments in Iraq

Canada will also continue to contribute existing capabilities.

NATO Mission Iraq

In November 2018, Canada assumed command of NATO Mission Iraq (NMI). NMI is a non-combat, advisory and training mission designed to help build more effective and sustainable Iraqi defence and security institutions. NMI is founded on partnership and inclusivity as well as on full respect for Iraq’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. It aims to assist Iraq in strengthening its military schools and institutions and advancing Security Sector Reform.

We will command NMI until November 2020. The Canadian Armed Forces will also continue to contribute up to 250 personnel to the mission during this time. This will include the mission commander, as well as advisors, trainers, headquarters staff, and other key personnel. 

NMI complements the broader international effort to help Iraq eradicate terrorism and increase the long-term stability of Iraq and the region.

Global Coalition headquarters

Canadian Armed Forces members are deployed to various Global Coalition headquarters to support Coalition and Iraqi security forces in the planning and execution of military operations. They provide high-demand expertise in the areas of operational planning and intelligence.

Assisting the Iraqi security forces

We are advising and assisting the Iraqi security forces to help them plan and conduct military operations against Daesh.

As part of this mission Canadian Armed Forces medical personnel provide training to Iraqi security forces in the conduct of casualty management in a battlefield context. We are also assisting in the training of Iraqi security forces and providing capacity building capabilities to regional forces. The provision of such training will be carried out in accordance with Canadian and international law.

We have deployed three CH-146 Griffon helicopters to enhance in-theatre tactical transport. The Griffons and their crews excel in the tactical transportation of troops and materiel.

Meanwhile we continue enhancing capacity-building efforts with security forces in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, promoting increased security, and contributing to regional security and stability.

We are also providing strategic advice and assistance to the Government of Iraq.

Related links

Diplomatic engagement

Canadian diplomats at our bilateral and multilateral missions work with partners and allies to achieve sustainable solutions to the ongoing crises in Iraq and Syria, and their impact on the region, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon. They advocate for human rights as well as economic, social, and political reforms. They also promote Canadian values such as gender equality and pluralism, and reinforce a rules-based international order.

Diplomats assess and track the evolving situation in the region to ensure an appropriate Canadian response and that our actions are coordinated with a wide range of partners.

Canada’s multilateral missions pursue Canadian objectives and work for solutions to the crises in Syria, Iraq and the region, for example:

We will continue to work with the international community, and has committed up to $91 million to support and sustain diplomatic engagement efforts.

Canada is also proud to be one of the few members of the Global Coalition against Daesh that is contributing to the Coalition’s military role and the four civilian lines of effort:

  • impeding the flow of foreign terrorist fighters
  • cutting off Daesh’s access to financing and funding
  • supporting stabilization activities in Iraq
  • exposing and countering Daesh’s propaganda

Canadian diplomatic engagement in Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon

Iraq

Canada supports a united, stable and diverse Iraq. We also support the Iraqi government’s efforts to mend ethnic and sectarian divisions and improve governance. This is why Canada’s five-year strategy for Iraq focuses on building local capacity at all levels of government, including for Iraq’s security forces and governance structures.  

Canadian diplomats at the Embassy in Baghdad and its Office in Erbil advocate for issues that are important to Canada, such as:

  • restoring stability
  • promoting diversity, gender equality, and respect for human rights
  • encouraging inclusive and effective governance
  • strengthening commercial relations and economic growth

Canadian diplomats also support national and community-level reconciliation processes and the Government of Iraq’s efforts to bring Daesh members to justice for the atrocities they have committed. 

Solutions to Iraq’s problems must be Iraqi-led and implemented. We work with many partners, including the Government of Iraq, Iraq’s regional and provincial authorities, like-minded countries, civil society organizations, and international organizations such as the United Nations. Canada is the gender focal point for the Global Coalition’s Stabilization Working Group.

We provide information and new tools aimed at encouraging other partners to do more to integrate gender considerations into their assistance for regions of Iraq that have been liberated from Daesh.

Canada has now welcomed over 1,400 survivors of Daesh, including many vulnerable Yazidi women and girls.  

Syria

Canadian diplomats advocate for accountability, a sustainable solution to the conflict, humanitarian access, and respect for human rights in Syria.

Our diplomatic response to the conflict in Syria focus on supporting the process to find a sustainable political solution to the crisis.

Canadian representatives advocate directly on this issue, both bilaterally and in multilateral forums, such as in the International Syria Support Group, based in Geneva. We participate in formal and informal mediation processes, and support women’s empowerment and participation in the peace process.

Canada works with allies, like-minded countries and the United Nations, including its Special Envoy for Syria, supporting efforts to bring an end to the war in Syria. In December 2016, Canada led a resolution at the UN General Assembly, which was adopted with the support of 122 countries, calling for an end to the hostilities in Syria and immediate humanitarian access for all Syrians.

We are a leading voice for accountability in Syria. We advocate for investigations into chemical weapons use, and for prosecuting war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by parties to the conflict.

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Canada actively contributes to accountability efforts led by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and funds the collection of evidence of war crimes in Syria through the Commission for International Justice and Accountability and the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism.

Lebanon

Lebanon hosts the largest per capita number of refugees in the world, including approximately 929,000 registered Syrian refugees. Our diplomatic engagement and programming in Lebanon is helping the country cope with this massive influx of refugees to prevent the conflict from spilling over onto Lebanese territory.

We are supporting efforts to promote women’s equality and empowerment, including by co-hosting in January 2019 the Mashreq High Level Conference on Women’s Economic Empowerment in Beirut, to launch the development of National Action Plans for Women’s Economic Empowerment (for Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq).

Canadian international assistance aims to build resilience, reduce tensions between host communities and refugees, and maintain the stability and security of Lebanon and its border with Syria. We are also helping increase the protection space for refugees in Lebanon through advocacy with key ministries. Since 2015, we have worked closely with the Government of Lebanon to resettle thousands of Syrian refugees. 

Jordan

Canada and Jordan enjoy close cooperation on security, defence, development, and humanitarian issues. Jordan is currently hosting 662,000 registered Syrian refugees. We are working with Jordan to promote political solutions to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Both countries are members of the Global Coalition against Daesh.

Canada’s diplomatic engagement and programming in Jordan is helping cope with the Syrian refugee crisis. Our international assistance helps communities provide essential services to reduce tensions between refugees and host communities. Since 2015, we have worked closely with the Government of Jordan to resettle thousands of Syrian refugees. 

In May 2016, Canada and Jordan signed a memorandum of understanding to increase cooperation between our two countries on security and stabilization in the region. This agreement on security cooperation enables a close strategic partnership in the fight against Daesh and supports Jordan’s response to its stabilization and security challenges. It includes contributions to Jordan’s Border Guard Force and the Jordanian Gendarmerie Force.

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