These moments define our humanity: we must remain open to refugees and vulnerable migrants

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Canadian Council for Refugees
Media release

For immediate release
23 March 2020

These moments define our humanity: we must remain open to refugees and vulnerable migrants

As the world’s borders close in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian Council for Refugees urges everyone to remain open to people in precarious situations in Canada and around the world, including refugees and vulnerable migrants. Even though we must keep our physical distance from each other, by caring for one another we will feel closer and keep all of us safer.

During this pandemic, as at other times, we must uphold our commitments to the rights of refugees, including our fundamental legal obligation to not turn refugees away at our borders. We are shocked and deeply disappointed at the Government of Canada’s abandonment of the rule of law in sending back refugee claimants at the US-Canada border. Those returned to the US will almost certainly be detained in the US, in conditions that were already appalling and are even more dangerous in the context of a pandemic. With increasing travel restrictions, fewer people are presenting themselves to make a claim: Canada has the capacity to admit them in accordance with the law, while ensuring that they go into isolation as required by Public Health  officials.

The interruption of international travel has halted all refugee resettlement. While unavoidable in the current context, this is particularly difficult for people who were on the point of beginning a new life in Canada, including some people who were already in transit to Canada and had to be returned to a place where they no longer have anywhere to live. Similarly, there are families who were on the point of being reunited and who now face remaining separated. We look forward to the time when public health officials say it is safe to resume day to day activities.

Furthermore, people’s right to liberty is compromised by immigration detention at any time, but even more now given the risks to health for people in detention, as well as the added stress of being locked up in a time of crisis. The CCR calls on the government to immediately release people from immigration detention unless they pose a danger to the public. The rationale for detention in any case is not present in most cases, given that immigration processes are not able to proceed at this time.

Many residents of Canada without permanent status are desperately anxious about the impacts of the shutting down of borders and services. People in Canada with expiring work permits or temporary visas fear being in a legal void, and many people have questions about their status, with little opportunity to receive answers and all refugee hearings postponed. Migrant workers in Canada without status due to fraudulent recruitment practices, and put into exploitative or trafficked situations, are particularly vulnerable.

We encourage all levels of government to provide necessary services, including access to testing and health services, as well as income support, regardless of status, with sensitivity to the impacts of the current crisis.

This is a global pandemic impacting all people, especially the most vulnerable. These moments define our humanity. We must take up the challenge and work to ensure there is no place for racism, discrimination or hateful blaming.

Finally, the Canadian Council for Refugees salutes the extraordinary efforts of people across the country and around the world who are working tirelessly and courageously to keep people safe, including those serving refugees and immigrants, whether working for our member organizations, the government, or in other capacities.

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Contact:

Aude Lecouturier, Communications Coordinator, Canadian Council for Refugees, media@ccrweb.ca