Refugee Rights Day is celebrated each year in Canada on April 4th, the 1985 date when the Supreme Court decided that the Charter sentence: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person…” also includes refugee claimants. While it is a day to celebrate, it is also a time to take stock of how well Canada is doing in responding to the plight of the world’s refugees.
The Refugee Advisory Committee of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlottetown was recently formed to advise the bishop on matters of refugee sponsorship in parishes throughout the Island. As a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH), the Diocese can more-easily facilitate the sponsorship process with the federal government. As a member of both the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) and the national Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) Association, the committee also advises the Diocese on possible improvements to federal and provincial refugee policies and practices. The committee encourages all members of the Diocese to somehow participate in addressing the worsening plight of the world’s refugees.
According to the UNHCR, the world is now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homes. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees. More than half are children.
Canada presents itself as a safe haven for refugees, and Canadians have indeed been generous whenever special campaigns to welcome refugees have been initiated, most recently with the resettlement of Syrian refugees. Many Canadians would therefore be surprised to learn that just recently, the federal government has significantly reduced its commitment to settle refugees.
Convention refugees come to Canada in three ways: as Government-Assisted Refugees (GARs); as Privately-Sponsored Refugees (PSRs); or as Blended Visa Office Referred (BVORs). They receive one-year of financial support from either the federal government (GARs); from private-sponsor groups (PSRs); or from both, on a shared basis (BVORs). As the bar-chart clearly shows, the percentage of PSRs has been steadily rising while GARs decline. Whereas 70% of refugees were GARs in 2006, only 30% will be GARs in 2017. Private sponsorship of refugees should be adding to, not replacing the federal government’s responsibility to settle refugees.
In 2016, the federal government welcomed 300,000 immigrants to Canada, 25,000 of whom were refugees. In 2017, 300,000 immigrants will again come to Canada, but only 7,500 of them will be refugees. Similarly, the P.E.I. government’s acceptance of 150 GARs in 2016 will drop to 50 refugees in 2017. In both cases, the quotas have been slashed by about two-thirds.
The federal government also sets levels for how many refugees SAHs can privately-sponsor each year: the Diocese of Charlottetown’s allotment of 22 refugees in 2016 has been reduced to just 9 for 2017. As well, the PEI government does not accept refugees under the Provincial Nominee Program.
The UNHCR projects that an astounding 1,190,000 refugees will need resettlement in 2017. It is obviously very concerning that Canada has significantly decreased its commitment to refugee resettlement at a time when the global need is greater than ever.