Canadian Council for Refugees


Opening Statement by CCR on the occasion of the visit to Canada of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, and his meeting with NGOs
Delivered by Elizabeth McWeeny, President

3 November 2006
High Commissioner Mr. Guterres, it is my privilege on behalf of the Canadian Council for Refugees to welcome you to Canada and to express our appreciation for this opportunity to meet with you today.
We have heard you express your commitment to furthering partnership between UNHCR and NGOs and we too believe that NGOs are key players in refugee protection, in advocacy to ensure protection of refugee rights and as important bridges into our communities for refugees who seek asylum and permanent protection or durable solutions through resettlement.
In this context I wish to highlight to you today some of the key concerns of the Canadian Council for Refugees as they relate to Canadian policies and programs as well some more closely aligned to the international sphere.
Interdiction/Canada – US Safe Third Country Agreement
We wholeheartedly agree with your statement to EXCOM 2006 that in order to safeguard asylum States and UNHCR must firmly oppose all forms of refoulement and guarantee respect for international refugee law, including that international refugee law must not be superseded by national legislation, extradition treaties, or redefined by bilateral arrangements. (Opening statement to EXCOM 2006).
We are acutely conscious that the drop in asylum claims in the world’s wealthiest countries, including Canada, is related to explicit efforts by States to make their territories inaccessible to asylum seekers.  Among these efforts is the posting of interdiction officers (called by Canada “Migration Integrity Officers”) who interdict each year thousands of people, without any process in place to assess whether they need and have access to asylum.
Such interdiction practices represent a massive and direct challenge to the institution of asylum. The Canadian Council for Refugees urges the UNHCR to confront this issue with energy.  We regret that the guidelines that were being prepared by the UNHCR have never been finalized.  We would welcome an opportunity to work with the UNHCR to explore possible responses to the practices of interdiction, with a view to ensuring that refugees have access to protection.
Together with other forms of interdiction that deny access to asylum, the CCR has always strongly opposed the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States.  As you may be aware, the CCR, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches, along with an asylum seeker in the US, are challenging in the courts the designation of the US as a safe third country.
You may be aware that NGOs had misgivings about the monitoring role given in the Agreement to the UNHCR.  It signaled an implicit endorsement of the Agreement by the UNHCR, through a participation in a monitoring function that was designed in such a way that it could not reveal the impacts on refugees in need of protection.  Now, ten months after the monitoring report was expected, UNHCR’s credibility is further undermined by the continuing non-publication of the report.  It appears that the two governments are indicating their lack of interest in being accountable with respect to the impact of the Agreement on asylum seekers, and the reputation of the UNHCR unfortunately suffers by its involvement.
Recent developments in the US have led the CCR to an even deeper conviction that the US is certainly not safe for all refugees. We recognize the sensitivities in this for the UNHCR but nevertheless urge you, High Commissioner, to acknowledge clearly that the shortcomings in the US asylum system, of which you are very much aware, mean that the US cannot be considered a safe country for all refugees.
Impact on Asylum and Protection of the “war on terrorism”
One of the reasons this Safe Third Country Agreement was approved with such ease is the post 9-11 era in which we now live. For a long time, Canadians have increasingly valued and welcomed the benefits of our culturally and racially diverse society. These advances are being challenged, as they are in other countries, as a result of what is called the “war on terror”. We are concerned that fear and insecurity, often heightened through irresponsible manipulation, are being used by States as license to erode asylum systems, withhold contributions to organizations working to protect refugees and acquiesce to and even add to the rising intolerance and marginalization of refugees and new immigrants, particularly Muslims and Arabs, in countries of asylum, such as Canada.  An example of the problems is the use in Canada of security certificates.  Five men, all Arab, all Muslim, are currently subject to these measures, which deny those affected the right to know the evidence against them and which result in long-term detention without independent review.
The CCR has recognized the need to give a high priority to analyzing and responding to the impact of the security agenda as it relates to refugee rights and the integration of refugees and immigrants. We will be holding a workshop at our upcoming consultation in November on this issue. In my recent conversation with Ms. Erika Feller, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Ms. Feller encouraged us to inform her of our work on this issue and we will do so in the understanding that this is also a preoccupation for UNHCR. 
We have noted with appreciation that you have already spoken out clearly on the false links that are so often drawn between refugees and terrorists.  We encourage you to continue to do so and to challenge the particular ways in which Arabs and Muslims are being discriminated against.
Lives on Hold Campaign
Canada’s policy on moratoria on returns to countries that are seen as unsafe for the general population is an important mechanism providing an alternate form of protection for persons who are not found to be Convention Refugees. In part, Canada bases these moratoria on UNHCR’s “non-returnability advisories”. Although we welcome the use of this alternate form of protection, we are deeply concerned that people are being put ‘on hold’ for several years or more without an effective mechanism to achieve a durable solution and begin their lives again. Moreover, we believe that many of these persons who sought refugee status in Canada might have been successful in their claim but for the flaws in the refugee determination system, including the absence of an appeal mechanism.
The CCR has documented the impact of family separation, under-employment and exploitation, lack of access to post-secondary education and many other hardships suffered by moratoria nationals without permanent status. We are seeking a remedy for people whose lives are on hold and are requesting Canada to grant permanent status to nationals of moratoria countries who have been in Canada for three years or more.
We are interested in hearing your views on this situation, High Commissioner, given that moratoria are an alternate form of protection prompted by UNHCR’s concerns for the protection of persons who cannot be returned to insecure and dangerous countries. We hope that you will support our efforts in this area, and that you will join with us in seeking a workable solution for the individuals trapped in this situation.
Despite the scale of the problem around the world, the issue of statelessness is seriously neglected globally as it is in Canada.  We urge you to call on Canada to take a leadership role by signing on to the 1954 Convention and encouraging others to do likewise.
Iraqi Refugees
High Commissioner, in your statement to the NGOs at the Annual Consultations in late September of this year you remarked on how the international community and UNHCR have failed to support the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled Iraq, especially those who are now in Syria and Jordan. You also mentioned that UNHCR will be conducting an analysis in the next few weeks with the possibility of recommending changes in the responses of UNHCR and States to the needs for protection and durable solutions of Iraqi refugees.  We look forward to this review, because we are aware of the untenable situation facing many Iraqi refugees in the Middle East and the urgent need therefore for some remedies to be found.
We believe that resettlement to Canada should be considered as a durable solution for some Iraqi refugees, as for other refugees, particularly those who have family links to persons in Canada.  However, UNHCR’s current policy in the region is influencing our government to reject resettlement as an option for these persons even when they have family and friends here waiting to help them, when their current situation is precarious and when the cruel reality is that most will not return home in the foreseeable future. 
We therefore look forward to receiving the results of UNHCR’s analysis on the current state of refugees in the region and trust that it will address the need to think beyond the hope for an early repatriation and seek to work with States and NGOs in finding other durable solutions.
Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program
As you may already know, the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program provides for the resettlement to Canada of over 3,000 refugees every year, in addition to the number resettled with direct Canadian government support. It is a dynamic, responsive mechanism that engages the Canadian public across the country in providing protection and a durable solution through resettlement. Private sponsors are responsive to requests referred through our own government, which are in most cases UNHCR referrals.  Private sponsors also respond to requests from many different sources, including partner organizations and friends and families of refugees.  We believe that private sponsorship plays a crucial role in complementing the UNHCR’s efforts to identify refugees in need of resettlement and hope that we can work together to support each other in increasing our collective capacity to ensure wide access to durable solutions for refugees.
International NGO Networking
Finally, High Commissioner, I would like to give you some good news.
The CCR has undertaken to facilitate the development of an international network of NGOs concerned with refugee rights and refugee protection. We acknowledged that to be effective in advocating for refugee rights, NGOs have to be as successful as States at working together on an international level.
In June of this year we hosted an International Conference on Refugee Rights. The conference was attended by close to 500 participants, with representation from over 30 countries in all regions of the world.  Most participants were NGO representatives.

The goal of the conference was to enhance the effectiveness of NGOs in promoting the human rights of refugees by promoting cross-border networking. At the concluding plenary participants warmly endorsed the major recommendation to establish an international network on refugee rights and the representation for a steering committee was identified.  Two key tasks for the steering committee are to: establish electronic communication between conference participants and other NGOs interested in networking on refugee rights and to plan for another conference to be held in 2008 in a different region of the world. Since June, terms of reference for the steering committee have been developed and we are moving forward to seek resources to support the initiative with a small Secretariat to facilitate and liaise with the participating NGOs.

The CCR certainly recognizes the NGO international networks that are already in place and that are often issues based such as the Detention Coalition, and the network organized around the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement. We also acknowledge the important role of ICVA in coordinating NGO input at UNHCR meetings.  We hope that this new initiative will support the work already being done in these areas.
As part of these efforts, the CCR has a special focus of linking with our NGO colleagues in Latin America.  Another outcome of the International Conference was the establishment of the Ibero-American Network that emerged from the Latin American caucus. We hope it will lead to some very concrete actions for NGO networking in the Americas, in particular around the Mexico Plan of Action and also the outcome of the Resettlement meeting in Quito in February 2006 which builds on the principles emerging from the ICRIRR Conference of April 2001 in supporting new and emerging resettlement countries.
We are delighted to see the recent announcement from the government of Canada on the donation of $1million to assist with capacity building of NGOs working on the resettlement of refugees in Latin America. We have long expressed our interest in supporting capacity building initiatives by linking Canadian NGOs with those in Latin America and look to UNHCR to facilitate this activity as part of the broader initiative.
We look forward to developing channels of communication between this new international network of NGOs and the UNHCR.
In conclusion, we appreciate the opportunity to meet with you here today and look forward to useful discussion as part of our ongoing dialogue with UNHCR.