Refugees and Asylum

When refugees take the difficult decision to leave their homes and their countries, or to embark on dangerous voyages with uncertain prospects, they are acting from despair.  Persecution and conflict are on the rise.  Around the world today over 65 million people remain forcibly displaced – the largest number since the Second World War.  Over twelve months in 2015-16 this figure increased by over 5 million, with as many as 40,000 being displaced each day.


Among several enduring legacies of the international effort to support Afghanistan, including repeated elections, basic freedoms and over ten million children in school, the return of over five million refugees was a singular milestone.  But Afghan migrants are now again on the move.  There will be no lasting solution to the world’s current crisis of displacement without conflict resolution and enduring peace settlements in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, South Sudan and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa, Southeast Asia and Central America.


In other words, the best way to assist refugees and other displaced persons worldwide is to use negotiation and diplomacy backed by military force to bring about peace settlements – and to allow those who have fled to return home.


In response to this wave of displacement and migration, walls and barriers continue to be erected along dozens of borders.  Human smugglers expose desperate refugees to ever more dangerous schemes.  The UNHCR is facing four emergencies at once (Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen), while grappling with the challenge of refugee protection and mixed migration faced by partners such as the European Union, Turkey and the Central African Republic.


While Canada since 2011 has resettled well over 23,000 Iraqi and 43,000 Syrian refugees, the number of registered Syrian refugees has risen since November 3, 2015 from 4.3 million to 5 million today -- not including about twice as many displaced inside Syria.  The number of people killed in the Syrian genocide since 2011 has reached 500,000.  Since 2000 over 25,000 of all nationalities are estimated to have died in attempts to cross the Mediterranean.  Despite these disturbing trends, the number of refugees resettled safely worldwide has barely increased.


These multiple crises have other unseen costs.  For example, travellers from dozens of countries where displacement is occurring are often refused visas to Canada because they are assessed as likely to make asylum claims.  As a result, poverty-reducing business suffers; isolation increases; and families are separated for extended periods


Our country has three unique strengths in responding to displacement: private sponsorship, strong resettlement programmes, and public support for well-managed programmes for refugee resettlement and asylum.  We need to build on all three.  Canada has a responsibility to be a leader on refugee resettlement, asylum, emergency response and prevention, as well as conflict resolution.


As Prime Minister in a new Conservative government I would:


(i)             set annual levels for private sponsorship of refugees in consultation with all eligible groups at up to 20,000 per year, and commit to a 6-month processing standard;


(ii)           eliminate backlogs in all refugee, protected person, humanitarian and compassionate programmes within eighteen months;


(iii)          establish new protection teams in priority missions to identify vulnerable persons and facilitate IRB hearings by videoconference, with a target of 1,000 cases heard from claimants abroad in the first year;


(iv)          for those whose visitor visa applications are refused make available a new visa conditional on a voluntary commitment not to make an asylum claim in Canada;


(v)           scale up Canadian support for UNHCR and other agencies responding to displacement emergencies, including in Iraq, Syria and the Horn of Africa;


(vi)          convert and scale up the Interim Federal Health Programme into a Canadian Refugee Health and Education Task Force covering health care for asylum claimants, protected persons and refugees over their first three years, as well as new programmes to provide health care and education for the forcibly displaced around the world;


(vii)        champion with all UN partners a new model for asylum that emphasizes remote adjudication of larger numbers of claims to promote the safety of claimants and prevent dangerous journeys;


(viii)       champion private sponsorship of refugees in the EU, US and elsewhere;


(ix)          advocate refugee resettlement by Arab states and other OIC members;


(x)           concentrate Canada’s settlement network on the needs of refugees, particularly job placement, skills and language training;


(xi)          allow multi-year public policies for groups that resettle vulnerable refugee groups “without fraud and without welfare” – on the successful model of recently resettled Tibetan refugees; and


(xii)        while displacement remains at record highs, maintain annual intake of up to 40,000 refugees and protected persons per year, with a strong and growing emphasis on private sponsorship, public policies, and protection for persecuted and vulnerable persons identified by Canadian missions abroad.

Alexandra Day