Kitchener, 25 April 2018 – MCRS Director responds…
Everyday I scan the headlines and read news and opinion articles referencing refugee claimants. Today, my heart sank as I read these words from Margaret Dente in a Globe and Mail opinion piece:
“In other parts of the world, desperate asylum seekers risk their lives on leaky boats, or entrust their fate to human smugglers. But Canada is easy. To get to Canada, all you have to do is take a cab to the border. Your greeting will be warm. The new arrivals at Roxham Road look more like tourists than endangered refugees. Their suitcases are neatly lined up as they wait for buses to take them to their temporary accommodations, where they will receive food, shelter, medical care, financial support, work permits, schooling for their kids – and, eventually, a refugee hearing. No wonder Canada is such a popular destination.”
The people our office serves everyday have faced horrendous situations that most of us can’t begin to imagine. Do some of them come through the U.S.? Yes they do. And they have a right to. People have an international right to seek refuge and they are not obligated to go to the first so-called safe country. Which is a good thing because there are now 70 countries that have rolled up the welcome mat and closed their doors, making it that much harder to find safety.
I’m glad we still give a warm welcome. It might be the first sign of hope people have seen in a long, long time.
I’m glad our border is safe to cross – it means it isn’t being bombed or it isn’t lined with snipers.
I’m glad that we can meet people’s immediate needs while determining the validity of their claim. What kind of people would we be to deny such things? Should people go hungry and sleep on the streets? Should they be denied medical care when they need it?
I’m glad people don’t have to be on a leaky boat to get to us, and are far away from the hellish circumstances that put them on the move in the first place.
All of this means I’m living in a safe country that is not being torn apart by war, persecution, corruption or a whole host of other things that people must flee from.
The claims process is not easy – in fact, it is downright intrusive, skeptical, and demanding. Which means, if someone is accepted as a refugee claimant it’s because they have proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they had a personal target on their back that already has strike marks on it!
Let’s not begrudge them simply because they have a suitcase and their clothes aren’t tattered.
As for having nothing to lose…
If your claim is denied and you are deported you don’t come back to Canada – EVER – under any circumstances. If your claim is accepted it is because you have lost everything already. So in that sense I guess, yes, they have nothing to lose because all they have is their suitcase as they stand in line. Perhaps they should lose that too before we are kind to them.
Winnipeg, 20 September 2017 – Dear Church Leaders and Friends: As you know, City Church has been working for over three years to create a refugee ministry center. We are excited to tell you that last Monday we received our occupancy permit and yesterday our live in care takers and director of the program moved into the building. We are planning on having our first residents move in on October 2nd.
Naomi House will have up to twenty people living in the facility for up to six months at a time. It is intended to be a transitional home for newly arriving refugees and refugee claimants. Additionally, we will be offering programming for former refugees on the main floor.
Our desire is to do this in partnership with the churches in Winnipeg. We see this ministry centre as an “on ramp” for churches to involve themselves in the lives of refugees.
We would be honored if you and members of your church would join us on Sunday, October 1, 2017 for our grand opening and dedication service.
Montréal, 5 September 2017 – Fear. It is a very powerful emotion. Each one of us has known fear at one time or another. Fear of failing an exam; fear of losing one’s job; fear of the unknown; fear of losing somebody close; fear of dying… Nobody likes to live in fear. At the heart of every fear is the feeling of insecurity. And human beings spontaneously look for security.
For a few weeks now, we have seen the daily arrival of Haitians who are claiming refugee status on Canadian territory. They are coming here because they fear that the American administration will send them back to Haiti as of January 2018. It is at this time that the United States may put an end to special measures giving them temporary protected status over there. Returning to Haiti represents a huge insecurity for these people because conditions over there are often extremely difficult. That is why these refugee claimants deserve that we listen to what they have to say.
This widely covered arrival of refugee claimants crossing the border has also, apparently, given way to some insecurity within many Canadians. Many of our fellow citizens fear that their social benefits will be in danger by allowing these people to enter our country, because, during some time, these newcomers receive limited support from the state. Others fear they will lose their jobs or not find any, thinking these newcomers will take them. Even though these fears are largely unfounded, our co-citizens also deserve to be listened to with respect.
Many of us know the famous story of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s novel, « Les Misérables » written in the 19th century. When he was a young adult, Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread. That act, of itself, is reprehensible. The baker deserves to be paid for his labour. We can therefore condemn Jean Valjean and say that justice has been done. But as we read the story, we discover that Jean Valjean stole that bread to feed his sister, who had recently been widowed, and her seven children. He was a pruner, a seasonal worker; and during the off-season, he could not find work. His nieces and nephews were hungry; he therefore stole some bread. By getting to know the character a bit more, with his story and the reasons that led to that act, we come to feel compassion for him.
All of us, before passing judgement, should we not go and meet the stranger who has just arrived, to listen and discover a bit more on his life? We would therefore see that he is not all that different from us. He too wants to work; he too wants to feed his family; he too wants to educate himself; he too wants stability and a better life for his children. Unfortunately, all those things we take for granted in Canada are very difficult, if not impossible at this time in Haiti.
Of course, we need to work towards creating the socio-political and economic conditions that would allow Haitians to live with dignity in their own country without being forced to find exile elsewhere. But that will take years and will demand changes; changes in our politics regarding international aid as well as at the level of the political and institutional leadership in Haiti itself. But until that time, we must expect that Haitians will look for a better life elsewhere. Can we really blame them? How many people from Atlantic Canada have gone to find work in the oil patches of Alberta in the past 50 years? How many Irish people came to Canada in the middle of the 19th century because they were starving to death in Ireland?
We often hear that « we cannot take on all of the world’s problems ». Fair enough. However, a few thousand people is far from being “all of the world’s problems”. Let’s keep a bit of perspective: Lebanon (a state of 4 million people) has welcomed 1 million Syrian refugees in the last few years. In 2001, close to 45,000 refugee claimants arrived in Canada; for 2017 (from January until June) we have a little more than 18,000. Therefore, everything is quite relative…
Maybe the fear of the refugee is not so much because he is different from us, with his customs, his culture, his religion… Maybe the fear of the refugee comes more from the fact that he reminds us of our own human fragility; that we ourselves could someday become homeless, exiled and in search of a refuge… Speak to Montrealers who were victims of the flooding this past spring or residents of Fort MacMurray who lost their houses in the forest fires last year.
We could easily conclude that the situations of the refugee claimants, as well as the victims of floods and fires, that «they are not my problems! » But one day, each one of us risks being in a precarious situation… What then when the other tells us: « I’m sorry, but that is not my problem »?
To ask that question, is to return to the foundation of our common humanity and to the essential links of solidarity that weave together a society.
– Norbert Piché, Country Director Jesuit Refugee Service – Canada