Refugee Advocates Call for Canada’s Continued Welcome on World Refugee Day

Immigration and refugees have become polarizing topics and will be defining issues in Canada’s 2019 federal election. The openness with which Canadians once welcomed refugees is slowly ebbing to feelings of concern, doubt, and frustration.

On June 20, international World Refugee Day, Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) joins this year’s theme to #StepWithRefugees. Alongside the UNHCR initiative to encourage people globally to walk, run or cycle one billion miles in recognition of the one billion miles refugees cover annually to reach safety, CPJ acknowledges that Canada has taken a few steps forward with refugees this year. Sadly, CPJ feels Canada has also taken a few too many steps backwards in our support of refugees.

One important step forward involved the launch of the Visible Minority Newcomer Women Pilot Program. Ahmed Hussen, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, recognized that “Despite our country’s openness to diversity, visible minority newcomer women continue to face more barriers to full fulfillment and inclusion in Canadian society.” As a result, over the next two years, $7.5 million will be spent to support newcomer visible minority women to find employment.

Another 2-year pilot project will permit refugees to sponsor their undeclared immediate family members beginning on September 9, 2019. The current regulation bars sponsoring undeclared family members for life if they were not declared at the time of the principal applicant’s initial immigration. This has been a hindrance to the right to family reunification.

In May, the Supreme Court of Canada decided, in the Chhina case, that immigration detainees may challenge the lawfulness of their detention. This will strengthen the protection of the fundamental right to liberty. “As a long time refugee advocate, it was egregious to see Canada detain immigrants for so long, many of whom have already experienced trauma in their countries of origin and yet they have limited chances of receiving a fair hearing,” said CPJ’s Refugee Rights Policy Analyst Stephen Kaduuli. “This Supreme Court decision is an encouraging step towards greater rights for vulnerable immigrants and refugees.”

Unfortunately, the Government of Canada took a significant step backward this year, in the form of a new ground of ineligibility for refugee claimants who have previously made refugee claims and been rejected in the United States, with which Canada has the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). The US, however, is no longer a safe country for many refugees because it threatens to deport them to countries they fled from. This week, US President Donald Trump tweeted that “Guatemala is getting ready to sign a Safe-Third Agreement.” In a landscape in which the US is weaponizing Safe Third Country policies to keep away and sidestep their obligation to refugees, it is essential that Canada rescind the STCA with the US to continue to uphold refugees rights.

CPJ is concerned, too, that most of the opinions that Canadians have about refugees are based on a lack of or half-baked information. Those who do not support refugees often weaponize this information gap to spread lies that further confuse the public. It is, therefore, very important for concerned stakeholders to keep busting myths about refugees. As CPJ has continued to state, the language used by politicians and the media shapes how the public views refugees. “It’s undeniable that language matters when we talk about refugees,” said CPJ’s Refugee Rights Intern Serisha Iyar. “Canada must do better to call out xenophobia and anti-refugee sentiment, especially from leaders in government. The lives of refugees are quite literally at stake.”

Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) is a national organization that promotes public justice in Canada by shaping key policy debates through research and analysis, publishing and public dialogue. CPJ encourages citizens, leaders in society and governments to support policies and practices that reflect God’s call for love, justice and the flourishing of creation. To learn more, or become a member, visit cpj.ca.

For more information, contact Deb Mebude at deb@cpj.ca or 613-232-0275 x 225.