Refugee Law Office Discusses Inequity and the Dark Legacy of Harper’s Immigration Reforms
So far, Prime Minister Trudeau and Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s plan to bring over 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February has been a success, with over 26,000 arrivals at the time of this writing. The Syrian civil war and the ensuing mass exodus—millions of Syrians have fled their homes and are seeking refuge around the world—has been at the centre of heated debates of hospitality versus security in many nations, as fears of Islamic extremism have followed this issue like a shadow. Despite the heated debate, the level of international attention has brought with it an unprecedented show of support from many countries, including our own, where the recently-elected Liberal government has pulled out all the stops to accommodate as many Syrian refugees as possible. And while every refugee law office and advocate is proud to see this happening, it raises the question: what of the refugees fleeing from dangers that are less known to the public?
The issue seems to stem largely from limitations imposed during the decade-long reign of the Harper conservatives. During their time in office, they imposed numerous restrictions on immigration into Canada, especially concerning refugees. Caps were placed on the numbers of refugees allowed in through various channels, while other countries were designated “safe”—the controversial Designated Countries of Origin list, which was later deemed unconstitutional and stricken down—despite dangerous situations facing minority groups in several of these countries. Unfortunately, during that time, many Romani people fleeing persecution in Hungary were turned away.
However, despite the change of government, refugee law offices still have their hands tied when trying to help people find asylum in Canada. The Eritrean refugee crisis, for example, brings many citizens of the sub-Saharan African nation to our borders—and many are turned away. Landed refugees from Eritrea, who have fled a discreet but oppressive emergency government, are frequently unable to sponsor their family members to come to Canada. Those who are experience delays up to five years, which under such dangerous conditions could mean the difference between life and death. Other conflicts and crises in countries such as Afghanistan, Kenya, Burundi, and more are producing a staggering number of displaced persons around the world, the likes of which have not been seen in generations.
However, the problem is not that we are doing too much for one group, but that there are many limitations being put on Canada’s immigration networks that need to be handled. The current backlog of privately-sponsored refugees alone is larger than the number of Syrians brought in so far, and is only one of the problems that the Liberal government will need to address in 2016 if its commitment to humanitarian causes extends beyond the current Syria crisis.