The refugee ‘crisis’ originates far from our borders

TheStar.com – Opinion/Star Columnists
July 17, 2018.   By

If you believe some of the statements that have been made recently, you can barely move for all the refugees.

On Twitter last year, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needed “to address the illegal border crossing crisis.” On Monday, the federal Conservative Party posted — then deleted — a tweet showing a Black man with a suitcase walking into Canada superimposed on a January 2017 tweet from Trudeau that welcomed refugees and ended with “diversity is our strength.”

In Ontario, MPP Lisa McLeod has followed through on Premier Doug Ford’s promised hostility to the federal government and to migrants. In Toronto, a constant and deepening problem — providing public and affordable housing for those who need it — has been reimagined as one weighed down by too many refugees.

Some facts would be handy. According to federal government data, in 2017 just over 50,000 asylum claims — irregular or otherwise — were processed. Yet somehow a population that is less than one per cent of Canada’s population has come to constitute a “crisis.”

If there is any crisis, it is one of political will and compassionate policy.

Our immigration system is not perfect and has never been. But when politicians use the most vulnerable people — those asking Canada for protection — as talking points, it is troubling. The language of “crisis” is hiding long-standing problems: a failure to provide housing, to robustly fund social services and to adapt our immigration processes.

And there are pressing needs within immigration.

Staff at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) have complained of a lack of resources and decrease in morale. Rather than being the sole issue, the influx of people walking across the border has pointed out long-existing issues in how IRB runs, they say. A June report suggested a substantial overhaul that would seek to eliminate a multi-year backlog that shows no sign of abating.

Those problems predate this government and, indeed, the situation at the border. IRB staff point to Harper-era changes as a primary cause of their problems. Immigration lawyers and advocates have been saying much the same since those changes began rolling out eight years ago.

As more refugees have begun risking life and limb to walk across the border, many of the same advocates and lawyers have also decried the Safe Third Country Agreement. In light of Trump’s first attempt at a ban on Muslims entering America, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers called for the suspension of the Safe Third Country Agreement (signed by the Liberals) and for Canada to increase the number of refugees that we would take in.

The Trudeau government has not taken either action. In fact, compared with the previous year, the government actually decreased its targets for refugees while increasing the targets for other immigration streams.

Previous governments may have set some of these issues in motion, but rather than grandstand on Twitter, this government is perfectly placed to fix the broken places. The federal Conservatives and Ontario Conservatives have taken great offence at being connected to the “alt-right.” Yet in torquing the narrative around refugees, they haven’t shown themselves to be any different.

So much is broken and there is so much to fix.

It shouldn’t start at the border.

Vicky Mochama is the national columnist for Star Metro. She writes about race, gender, politics and culture. Follow her on Twitter: @vmochama

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2018/07/17/the-refugee-crisis-originates-far-from-our-borders.html

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