Refugee advocates urge Ontario to stay at the table
Ontario civil society groups and refugee advocates urge the Government of Ontario to remain engaged in intergovernmental collaboration to resettle the large numbers of refugee claimants arriving irregularly in Canada from the United States.
The Ontario government has indicated it will step back from cooperating with the federal government on resettling refugee claimants. The Ontario response was reported by media following a recent meeting of the Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Irregular Migration attended by Lisa McLeod, Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.
“We believe Ontario must be at the table to speak to the interests and priorities of municipalities that are trying to resettle refugee claimants in their communities” said Debbie Douglas, Executive Director of OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. “The right of refugee claimants to seek protection is safeguarded in Canadian law, which builds on Canada’s international obligations” she added.
“Ontario has called on the federal government to cover the costs of refugee resettlement. If they really want the province and municipalities to be compensated they must be at the table” said Francisco Rico-Martinez of the Coalition of Service Providers for Refugee Claimants in Ontario. “It is inhumane to risk making refugee claimants homeless to make a political statement. It is in violation of our international obligations and tradition, and Canadian values of social justice and human rights” he added.
“We are deeply disturbed by politicians and media inaccurately describing refugee claimants as illegal entrants into Canada. Asylum seekers have the legal right to cross the border to make a refugee claim” said Lobat Sadrehashemi, President of Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.
The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States prevents asylum seekers from making a refugee claim at a regular border crossing. As a result they are entering Canada irregularly in order to ask for asylum, which is not illegal.
“Refugee claimants are among the most vulnerable in our society. We all have a responsibility to treat them with respect and dignity and ensure their rights are protected” said Shalini Konanur, Executive Director of South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario. “Most importantly our own laws and the international treaties signed by Canada require us to do so” she added.
“Toronto and many of the surrounding municipalities had housing challenges long before the current increase of refugee claimant arrivals. Blaming Ontario’s housing crisis on vulnerable refugee claimants who cannot fight back is reprehensible and does great harm to claimants” said Avvy Go of Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change. “Refugee claimants should never be used as pawns by anyone, let alone our political leaders” she added.
Ontario leads the country in the resettlement of refugees, playing a prominent role in fulfilling Canada’s international humanitarian commitments. We have a strong tradition of welcoming refugees and refugee claimants, and they require coordinated assistance from all three levels of government in order to succeed.
As civil society groups and refugee advocates that support this statement, we call for leadership from all three orders of government in the resettlement of refugee claimants. We also call on political leaders and media organizations to respect the rights of refugee claimants. This includes using responsible language and factual reporting in order not to inflame anti-refugee sentiment.
Released by OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, Coalition of Service Providers for Refugee Claimants in Ontario, Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change, OHIP For All, Refugee Lawyers Association and South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario
Debbie Douglas, OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants firstname.lastname@example.org or Amy Casipullai, OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants email@example.com
Francisco Rico-Martinez – Coalition of Service Providers for Refugee Claimants in Ontario firstname.lastname@example.org
Avvy Go – Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change email@example.com
Ritika Goel – OHIP For All firstname.lastname@example.org
Raoul Boulakia – Refugee Lawyers Association email@example.com
Shalini Konanur – South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario firstname.lastname@example.org