Prairie Messenger Header

Refugees currently ‘in orbit’ have no protection and are stateless

By Randy Fleming

Premier Wall might wish to reconsider his statement regarding cancellation of receiving refugees from Europe. 

The timing of the premier’s statement to the Paris attacks makes me wonder if he was not simply reacting to the shocking turn of events all in one brief evening when ISIS made its assault on Paris. Unquestionably, the internal security of Canada is both a legitimate and paramount consideration for all levels of government today.

But what is required, I believe, is a sober second consideration in the context of the current plight of refugees currently “in orbit” (a term coined 30 odd years ago when a similar situation was occuring in Europe whereby refugees were being refused or turned back to their country of origin or habitual residence). In short, they have neither protection of, or in, any country; they are stateless.

Wall may not have been afforded the opportunity to receive a complete briefing of the situation on the ground overseas as well as the steps or process(es) being put in place by Ottawa (as we speak) to safely patriate those persons selected to come to Canada. Armed with this kind of security and settlement information from his federal counterparts, the premier might be more inclined to take a second look.

While no inference of partisan politics is being suggested, it’s important that people across this land get “all of the facts.” The premier too is entitled to receive all of the facts so that he in turn can make a good informed decision. But let’s not for a moment lose sight of fact that we are dealing with people’s lives — aged and some infirm, pregnant women, mothers with children of tender years as well as men of all ages and backgrounds.

All these people are facing so much uncertainty, perhaps a winter living outdoors if no suitable reception plan can be devised, no reasonable prospect of being settled soon or at all, and how long will the host country grant them asylum while waiting for permanent reception from some country.

We cannot overlook the fact that within the global security community and national governments, there are enormous resources and intelligence being shared and available to quickly weed out potentially unsuitable individuals or undesirables. 

Such security risks can be filtered back into centres overseas where they would undoubtedly be afforded the opportunity to rebut any presumption of their undesirability to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in concert with governments willing to receive refugees.

But to do something is imperative for Canada at this point. We need to address the urgency and immediacy of the situation and the acute needs of these displaced persons.

Canada doesn’t want to repeat history such as occurred over 70 years ago when, on the eve of the Second World War, Canada under the watch of Mackenzie King did not respond to save refugees. King’s indifference and inaction sealed the fate of several hundred Jewish refugees from Europe seeking admittance to Canada on humanitarian grounds by turning their ship back out to sea where on their return back to Europe their fate was sealed. 

To do the same today would trigger the wrath of the world community. But, more importantly, It would be a contravention of all the international agreements and accords of which Canada is a signatory, that obligate us to do our part to address this humanitarian crisis of no small proportions. We don’t want to turn back the page and start to place what may be restrictive measures on Canada’s immigration policy unnecessarily.

Apart from this, it warrants taking a look at who has been doing the “heavy lifting” in this crisis during the past year. Germany has generously responded by receiving over one million migrants who have come mainly out of Syria and Iraq. If Germany can absorb this many of the refugees at one time, then doesn’t it behoove Canada to mobilize its resources and citizens to respond by seeking to accommodate the 25,000 that Prime Minister Trudeau is committing Canada to absorb now.

Yet naysayers among the ranks of Canadians feel that we may be over-extending ourselves by supporting both the Conservative, and now Liberal, plan to patriate this many persons in the next six weeks, citing public/domestic security concerns, a seemingly immobilized civil service to handle the caseload and local authorities claiming a similar inability to process and resettle successful applicants for reception. 

Canada can and must step up to the plate. We did it for the Vietnamese boat people, 60,000 if memory serves me correctly, and probably with little of the infrastructure that this government has at its disposal. I, for one, am very glad that Trudeau chose to take the initiative to do something now, rather than later. 

This citizen will sleep better knowing that these people can start to carry on with their lives in the security of relative domestic peace in their adopted country. This is what my country Canada is all about.

Fleming is a retired lawyer who spent a considerable part of his practice counselling and representing refugees and immigrants. He is a member of Amnesty International Canadian Section.