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By: CBC News

A retired Canadian Armed Forces lieutenant-general and humanitarian is in Halifax to talk about the dangers of child soldier recruitment near war-torn Syria.

Roméo Dallaire, who is also the founder of the Child Soldiers Initiative and a former Liberal senator, recently returned from visiting Syrian refugee camps on the Jordanian border.

“It’s hot — 42, 45 degrees — desolate. There’s 85,000 people squished into an area with no water, only what’s brought in. There’s next to nothing to do except sit there and waste away,” Dallaire told CBC’s Information Morning.

He said it’s a particularly difficult situation for young people.

“The fight in Syria, as in Iraq, has continued to the extent that now they’re not only recruiting child soldiers — as they’ve been from the start, including ISIS and so on — but they’re recruiting them younger,” said Dallaire.

“Trying to talk to young people who have absolutely no hope, no school, just aimlessly waiting in very difficult living conditions … when people get through to them and say, ‘You might as well cross the border and come and fight.’ Even 13-year-olds are attracted by that.”

Making refugees wait against one’s ‘sense of humanity’

Dallaire said Canada could accept between 80,000 and 90,000 refugees over the next six months.

“We’re one of the 11 most powerful nations in the world and we’ve got 12 million people out there — Jordan has 1.3 million refugees. Sweden … is taking on 100,000. We’re getting stories about taking on 11,000 Syrian and Iraqi [refugees] … over four years, Dallaire said.

Roméo Dallaire was at the Jordanian-Syrian border in July, hoping to prevent Syrian children from being recruited as child soldiers. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

“Just the mere fact of saying four years, that means we actually want people to sit in a refugee camp for three years, at least. … That, in itself, is against your sense of humanity, your sense of giving people hope.”

Military bases in Canada are equipped to act as a staging area to get people out of refugee camps, said Dallaire. .

“This conflict, because we haven’t engaged as we should have four years ago … with boots on the ground, supporting the regional capabilities — we have a civil war that’s degenerated into the most catastrophic type.”

Dallaire also said most of the Syrian people displaced are in the middle class and bring “significant assets,” to whatever country accepts them.

“We cannot open the floodgates and airlift tens of thousands of refugees out of a terrorist war zone without proper process. That is too great a risk for Canada,” Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has said.

However, Dallaire said that concern should not prevent Canada from acting now.

“We brought in nearly 25,000 Iraqis and nobody was screaming from the rooftops that this was going to be a security problem,” he said.

Canada able to ‘fly the whole damn lot of them out’

He said Canada is equipped to assess any potential risks of people coming into this country as refugees.

“There is a risk of that but we do have capabilities here in this country to discern this. We’ve been spending billions building up the public safety capability. I certainly wouldn’t want to be an ISIS infiltrator among that population and be found out,” he said.

“One of the camps we went to, where there are 85,000 of them. They’re all documented … and we could go there with a bunch of trucks, load ’em up, bring them to the airport in Oman and we’ve got the aircraft to fly the whole damn lot of them out within a reasonable time.”

He said there’s infrastructure capacity on the Canadian military bases to accept that volume of people.

“It’s getting at the kids to stop these conflicts, which is the critical path, not just families but the young people. Stop them from being used as weapons of war and stop them from being disenfranchised to sustain these wars,” said Dallaire.

Dallaire will speak at a Dalhousie University’s lecture “Weapons of War: Sexual Violence and Child Soldiers,” Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Dalhousie Arts Centre.