FEDERAL OPPOSITION Leader Andrew Scheer and his band of Conservatives are playing divisive politics at the expense of people seeking asylum in Canada. On Monday, Canada, along with 160 other countries, became signatories of the United Nations’ Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
As a compact, and not a treaty, it is non-binding by Canada. Even so, last week, Scheer stood in parliament, urging Canada not to sign it. Though non-binding, Scheer made the ludicrous claims in parliament that the compact would “give influence over Canada’s immigration system to foreign entities.”
Heading into the 2019 election, it seems clear that Scheer wants to build his own figurative or literal wall against migration, just as those south of the border did. He uses terms like “illegal immigration,” rather than “migrants” or “asylum seekers” to vilify many who arrive at our borders.
The world is awash with refugees. Actually, the world is awash in conflict, catastrophe and injustice that force people to flee. Over 258 million people in the world are fleeing their homes. In 2016, the latest numbers available, Canada accepted only 46,000, or a mere 0.02% (not even 1%, not even 0.1%, but just 0.02%).
Refugees come to Canada in many ways. Some apply from outside Canada through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
But not all refugees have safety or sanctuary in another country, from which they can apply for asylum for in Canada. Some arrive in Canada, and claim asylum at our border or from within Canada.
In the U.S. right now, there are 13,000 children locked in detention, separated from their parents. Likely, many will never see their parents again. A person living in the U.S. could well fear for their safety and wellbeing if they stayed in the U.S. So some are coming to our borders and seeking asylum.
Canada has a history of accepting refugees who arrive at our borders.
In 1979-80, 60,000 Vietnamese Boat People found refuge in Canada after the Communist victory in the Vietnam War. Many arrived on our shores in rickety, rusty boats. We opened our arms and let them in. I remember working as a dishwasher in a Kamloops restaurant beside a Vietnamese woman, a doctor, who had arrived on a boat. Forty years on, they are not refugees, or newcomers. They are our neighbors, friends and fellow Canadians.
Canada also has a history of callously turning away refugees at our borders.
From 1933 to 1945, Europe came under the grip of Nazism. Jews and others were first persecuted, then imprisoned, and then finally exterminated through genocide. Canada took in fewer than 5,000 European Jews during this time.
In 1938, a boatload of 907 Jews, fleeing Germany, arrived in Canada. They were refused admittance. The boat load of Jews returned to Germany where most died in the Nazi Holocaust.
As long as there is conflict, refugees will continue to arrive at our borders.
From the 1890’s, Ukrainian refugees arrived in Canada, fleeing persecution under Austro-Hungarian rule. More arrived in the 1920 to 30’s, and again from 1945-52, fleeing civil war and Soviet Communist repression. As Russian tanks mass on Ukraine’s border, it doesn’t take much to imagine that more refugees from the Ukraine may come to Canada in the near future.
Canada has chosen to stand with 160 other countries and deal with human migration in a way that is fair, just and compassionate. It has chosen to work with other countries to find global solutions, rather than isolate ourselves.
With 258 million refugees, plus many other types of migrants, from international students, to temporary foreign workers, to permanent residents, and more, Canada should work with other countries cooperatively on migration. The United Nations’ Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is a tool to help do this.
Canada must continue its path as a welcoming country, working with other countries on migration issues. First and foremost, Canada must work to reduce conflict, so that people do not have to flee.
Second, when there are refugees, Canada should work cooperatively with other countries, to support the refugees wherever they end up. Kudos to Canada for signing the United Nations’ Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.