Double standards hurt refugee claimants: Kwan

By Jeremy J. Nuttall
New Canadian Media


As a Vancouver society working to support refugees fears closure after being denied federal funding, a similar organization in Manitoba said Ottawa approached it to talk about providing funding earlier this year.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the government needs to provide consistent support as increasing numbers of people claiming refugee status cross the U.S. border.

“That’s extremely disturbing,” Kwan said of the situation. “There needs to be consistency and fairness on the approach and they need to recognize their responsibility on this.”

The Tyee reported on the possible closure of the Inland Refugee Society of BC, which has been overwhelmed by a wave of refugee claimants crossing into British Columbia from the U.S., many avoiding official border crossings.

The number of people seeking support has more than doubled, executive director Mario Ayala said, and the society’s annual funding has been exhausted already.

In the first five months of this year, the society has helped 700 undocumented refugee claimants find shelter. Ayala said if the organization closes, Metro Vancouver could see a spike in homeless refugees.

The federal government has said it will not pitch in to close the funding gap, saying the undocumented asylum-seekers Ayala’s organization is helping don’t qualify for federal assistance.

The B.C. government has also turned down the organization, he said.

Ayala said Marta Morgan, the deputy minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said part of the reason the society wouldn’t receive funding is because the federal government “can’t be seen” to be helping undocumented refugees.

Department spokesperson Nancy Chan said it does not comment on private conversations.

Canada recognizes two broad classes of refugees: people who apply for asylum in another country before being accepted; and those who apply once in Canada, often referred to as undocumented refugees because they have not been vetted before arrival.

Refugee claimants arriving from the U.S. can be turned away at official border crossings because Canada recognizes it as a safe country for those seeking asylum.

As a result, an increasing number of asylum seekers have been crossing the U.S.-Canadian border between official points of entry to claim refugee status.

Kwan said Canada has signed international agreements to recognize refugees who make a claim once in the country, and shouldn’t abandon them.

“If the government is taking the position to say ‘no, we can’t be seen to be supporting these refugee claimants,’ then that is very troubling,” she said.

But while the B.C. society was told the government wouldn’t provide help for such refugee claimants, the head of a Manitoba organization offering the same services said Ottawa actually approached asking them to submit a funding request.

The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council helps refugees find temporary shelter and settlement services and has assisted 618 people this year.

Executive director Rita Chahal said the government asked her several months ago what kind of support the organization needs.

“I was approached by a couple of project officers to submit a budget, which we did,” Chahal said. “No one has followed up on it, no one has contacted us to see if they reviewed it and what their position might be.”

Chahal said the federal government has always held the position that it would not help undocumented refugees.

Despite the request for a funding proposal, Chahal said she isn’t expecting any money.

She said the Manitoba government helps her organization’s efforts with $110,000 per year in funding. The council also raises money from other donors.

The Manitoba Ministry of Education and Training, citing a June 13 byelection, said it couldn’t comment on the decision to fund the council.

But a press release in February quoted Manitoba Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister.

“Just as we have opened our arms to newcomers for centuries, our province continues to provide significant supports to those organizations offering direct services to refugee claimants,” Pallister said. “Our focus remains on measures that will ensure both the welfare of refugee claimants and the continued safety and security of residents of border towns.”

Kwan said the federal government can’t encourage one society struggling with lack of money to apply for funding while telling another there’s no chance of getting help.

She said she’s worried a wave of homeless refugees will be forced to the streets of Vancouver if someone doesn’t step up with support.


This piece was originally appeared in New Canadian Media.




UN praises Canada’s refugee program


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has praised Canada today for providing solutions to the plight of a record 46,700 refugees through their resettlement to Canada in 2016.

This is the largest amount of refugees admitted in a year since the implementation of the 1976 Immigration Act and a significant contribution to UNHCR’s global appeal to increase much needed refugee solutions.

“This is a tremendous achievement which reflects Canada’s longstanding tradition of welcoming refugees and assisting them with their integration into Canadian society,” said Jean-Nicolas Beuze, UNHCR Representative in Canada. “Without this support, scores of refugees would have been left in life-threatening situations and without any hope. Canada has again shown the world that successful resettlement is possible, particularly when government and civil society work together. Building on this success, UNHCR will continue to work closely with Canada to expand resettlement solutions to benefit the most vulnerable refugees.”

“Canada is proud to work with UNHCR to bring vulnerable refugees to our country. These newcomers help us build our society, culture and economy in long lasting and enduring ways,” said Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. “Canada hopes to increase global refugee resettlement and support civil society and other jurisdictions to expand resettlement along with developing other solutions for the world’s most vulnerable.”

Historically, Canada’s largest resettlement effort was with the Indochinese movement, which at its high point resulted in 40,271 refugees being admitted in 1980. In 1986, the Nansen Medal was awarded to Canada and its people in recognition of its response to the Indochinese Movement that directly helped thousands of persecuted individuals to start new lives Canada. Thirty years later, Canada proves once again that the same spirit of compassion and altruism continues to be present.

Compared to 2015, the 2016 resettlement level reflects a striking 133 per cent increase. This is due in part to the success of Canada’s humanitarian transfer of Syrian refugees carried throughout 2016 with UNHCR’s support, and which combined efforts by both the government and civil society to support the resettlement and integration of Syrian refugees into various communities across Canada.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to come to Canada. Having two of my children going to school and the smiles I now see on the faces of my other three disabled children is a dream come true. Back home, they would have been made fun of, or ignored, but here, everyone wants to help out,” says Shamsa, a Syrian mother of five who arrived to Canada in 2016. “I am so touched by this and can’t wait to also give back to the community.”

With the current levels of forcible displacement worldwide (21 million refugees) and an estimated 1,190,000 individuals in need of resettlement in 2017, UNHCR continues to appeal to countries, including Canada, for solidarity with refugees: only one per cent of refugees ever get a chance to be resettled. Resettlement continues to be a unique and tangible response to those in need of protection as it offers extremely vulnerable refugees an opportunity to restart their lives in safety and dignity.

Over the last four decades, Canada has generously welcomed some 700,000 refugees.

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