Refugees need protection, without discrimination

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Canadian Council for Refugees

For immediate release
17 September 2009

Refugees need protection, without discrimination

The Canadian Council for Refugees today deplored recent comments made by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney suggesting that refugee claimants in Canada are “fake” and that “real refugees” are overseas.

“We totally reject the simplistic and wrong-headed notion that “real” refugees are only to be found overseas,” said Elizabeth McWeeny, President of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR).  “Whether they are in Canada or overseas, refugees have the same right to and need of protection.  At our recent meeting, CCR members expressed their profound dismay both at the derogatory language used by the Minister in talking about claimants and at his suggestion that claimants can be traded off  for refugees overseas.”

Under the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Canada has legal obligations towards people in Canada who claim our protection. 2009 is the 40th anniversary of Canada’s signature of this fundamental instrument of refugee protection.

“Our Diocese funds an office for Ministry to Refugee Claimants,” said Bishop Ronald P. Fabbro, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of London.  “I have met refugee claimants and through our diocesan office can attest to their urgent need for protection from Canada.  As the 2006 Pastoral Letter of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said: ‘Based on the principle of the fundamental dignity of each human person and the consistent ethic of life, the Catholic Church is uncompromising on the rights of refugees… The Church teaches that every country is to see that the rights of refugees are assured and respected as much as the rights of its own citizens.’ ”

The Minister’s comments were quoted in an article in Embassy Magazine, “Resources better spent on UN-approved refugees: Kenney”, published September 9, 2009, suggesting that refugees who claim protection in Canada are less worthy of protection than those overseas.

The Minister’s preference for processing refugees overseas completely ignores the serious problems in Canada’s overseas refugee system.  Processing of refugee applications takes years and there is a backlog of 30,000.  In public discussion of refugee reform over the past few months, many have called the inland system “broken”, but have neglected the failings of the overseas system: a case apparently of “out of sight, out of mind”.

“Many refugees overseas have no access to the UN and their situation is too dangerous to wait for a solution to come to them,” said Adeena Niazi, Executive Director of the Afghan Women’s Organization in Toronto.  “For some, the most effective way to save their lives is to get to Canada and make a claim. We must not discriminate against refugees depending on whether they are here or overseas.”

“We belittle our status as a leading nation in refugee protection, when our government carelessly pits “fake” claimants here against “real victims of persecution” abroad,” said Ed Wiebe, refugee coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee Canada.  “As an organization that has worked with thousands of refugees – those overseas in need of resettlement and claimants in Canada – we know things aren’t as simple as the Minister implies.  We risk turning away deserving refugees when we start to differentiate based on where they come from, and where they manage to get our attention.”

The CCR strongly condemns the labelling of claimants as “fake”.  42% of refugee claims in Canada are accepted.  Of those that are not, some are refugees who were wrongly refused and would be recognized as refugees if the government implemented the right of appeal that exists in the law.  Others do not meet the narrow refugee definition but have fled a situation of discrimination or generalized risk. CCR members report that the Minister’s rhetoric about “fake claimants” is not only creating a negative environment for refugees in Canada, but is leading to claimants being denied access to necessary services, based on prejudices about claimants being “bogus”.

The CCR has for decades been calling for changes to the in-Canada refugee determination system, notably to ensure highly qualified decision-makers and that errors can be corrected.  The CCR has also repeatedly recommended to the government measures to discourage people who don’t need Canada’s protection from making claims.  Unfortunately, Minister Kenney has not consulted the CCR.

The CCR believes that most Canadians are concerned for  refugees in need of protection, whether they are here or overseas, and want Canada to live up to its legal and moral obligations towards refugees.

Contacts:

Janet Dench, CCR Executive Director, 514-277-7223, ext. 2
Gilbert Iyamuremye, Roman Catholic Diocese of London, Refugee Ministry Specialist for Private Sponsorship of Refugees, 519-256-0506
Adeena Niazi, Executive Director, Afghan Women’s Organization, 416-588-3585, ext. 222
Ed Wiebe, National Refugee Program Co-ordinator, MCC Canada, 204-261-6381, ext 227