November 10, 2013

November 10-17: Canada's "Proud to Protect Regugees" Week

November 10 to 17 is the national week of action for the Canadian Council for Refugees' Proud to Protect Refugees campaign. It's a time of focused effort to change the narrative around refugees in Canada (because no one likes being called a "queue jumper") and to highlight the troubling recent trajectory of Canadian refugee policy.

According to Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, "The refugee program is in the first instance about saving lives and offering protection to the displaced and persecuted" (paragraph 3 [2][a]).

Compare this with some of the case studies in the Wellesley Institute's new report on the impacts on the June 30, 2012 cuts to the Interim Federal Health (IFH) program, which eliminated essential health coverage for many refugee claimants. The government justified these cuts by stating concerns about cost, equity and deterrence:

• A woman in her third trimester of pregnancy develops pre-eclampsia, a potentially lethal disease, but had no coverage to treat her condition.

• Two young children with multiple hospitalizations for asthma could not get access to their inhalers [which were no longer covered].

 • A teenager with PTSD and previous suicide attempts [...] was cut off from essential psychiatric medications.

Everyone from physicians to lawyers to church sponsor groups (who are now on the line for refugee health care costs) have demanded that the cuts be rescinded, but to no avail. 
More sweeping changes came in 2012 through Bill C-31, Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act. In a fascinating article in Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, Mark Glanville explores several aspects of the act in light the biblical ethics of Deuteronomy. According to Glanville, "Near Eastern law code has called society and church to just practices for around three thousand years and it roundly condemns [...] five aspects of Bill C-31 as unjust."
The five areas highlighted by Glanville demonstrate the new direction of Canadian refugee policy and provide an overview of items that should cause Christians concern.
  1. Seemingly "safe" countries are categorized as Designated Countries of Origin (DCOs). Refugee claimants from these now 37 DCOs face severe procedural barriers based solely on the countries they're fleeing from.
  2. Preparation time for claim hearings is reduced for claimants from DCOs. It's as short as 30 days, which is often insufficient to seek and access legal counsel and to prepare all necessary evidence. 
  3. Appeals through the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) are being denied to people from DCOs and to "irregular arrivals." "Irregular arrivals" could be almost any group of two or more designated as such by the Minister of Public Safety on suspicion on human smuggling or for being part of a group that border authorities didn't interview and identify in a timely way.
  4. Even after being accepted as refugees, "irregular arrivals" must wait five years to apply for permanent residency, and even longer to apply for family reunification. This even applies to immediate family members including children and spouses. 
  5. "Irregular arrivals" aged 16 and over are placed in mandatory detention. Parents are forced to choose to either place their children in foster care in their new foreign country or to keep their children with them in detention. 
Of course, much of the justification for these measures is cost cutting and improved efficiency, as well as cracking down on "bogus" refugee claims, a significant problem in Canada according to the Citizenship and Immigration office. But according to CCR, this terminology is harmfully misleading. 
Their website states that although the Minister repeatedly refers to refused claims as "bogus," their refusal has more to do with legal technicalities. "Many failed claimants come with a genuine fear of persecution but may not meet the definition of a refugee," it says. 
The Minister's office has also been questioned on internal memos about proposals to limit the amount of refugees with health issues including trauma from torture. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, CCR executive director Janet Dench attributed it to the fundamental shift in government policy. “They’re evaluating refugees on the basis of which ones are going to be best for Canada’s economy,” she explained.
Whether in Deuteronomy, the New Testament, or today's UN conventions, welcoming the persecuted stranger is not a suggestion; it's imperative. Whether we use the language of compassion, justice, or international human rights, we must take action.
With more limiting changes to family reunification proposed for January, CCR's week of action comes at the right time. In opposition to the health care cuts and alarming restrictions on refugee claims, we can all speak up about being proud to protect refugees. 
  • Call, write, or visit your MP to express your concerns. (MPs are in their ridings this week!)
  • Use social media to help shift the narrative about refugees in Canada. Use #ProudToProtectRefugees and check out the great tweets and images (think BMW...) on CCR's action page
  • Check out the CCR's new faith-groups toolkit to plan an event or worship service that highlights the state of refugees and refugee policy in Canada. 
For more ways to engage, as well as more articles and religious reflections on this timely issue, visit our Take Action: Proud to Protect Refugees page.

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