Leadership in global migration and immigration: In what ways can Canada be a model to the world on refugees, migration and immigration?

The following was submitted to Government of Canada’s Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Consultation August 5, 2016. It was brought forward by leading Canadian humanitarian organizations CARE Canada, Islamic Relief, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam-Québec, Plan International Canada, Save the Children, and World Vision Canada, as well as the Canadian Council for International Co-operation.

Canadians have a strong tradition of important contributions towards refugee resettlement and assisting displaced people around the world.

Today, as the international humanitarian system struggles to uphold the rights of some 65 million forcibly displaced people – including over 21 million refugees, 3 million asylum-seekers and over 40 million internally displaced persons – individuals and governments globally have taken note of Canada’s resettlement of over 26,000 Syrian refugees, and its continued provision of life-saving humanitarian assistance.

Set against this backdrop, Canada is uniquely positioned to help lead the international community towards the adoption of a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework at the High-Level Meeting on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants at the United Nations General Assembly on September 19 2016.

Through its engagement in this critical and urgent process, including in negotiations before the Summit and in articulating and implementing new commitments, the Government of Canada should leverage its diplomatic resources to ensure that the needs, rights and interests of forcibly displaced people and host communities are upheld under a new global policy framework that:

  • Builds upon the nine core human rights conventions, international humanitarian and refugee law, and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development;
  • Includes strong references to refugees and displaced people – including women, girls and children – as active stakeholders with both agency and specific needs;
  • Recognizes that the immigration detention of children based on their or their parents’ migration status is never in the best interests of the child, and commits to the earliest possible ending of this practice;
  • Supports the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in all responses to large movements of refugees and displaced people;
  • Takes into consideration the different needs, vulnerabilities and capacities of women, girls, boys, and men.
  • Is predictable and equitable, clearly defined and effectively implemented and monitored, including through the support and oversight of a robust institutional mechanism;
  • Addresses the role of national and local authorities in hosting, welcoming and resettling refugees, as well as the role of non-state actors, civil society and employers;
  • Ensures that states’ contributions to refugee responsibility-sharing is fair and proportionate, and based on objective criteria, such as the size of the economy, size of the population, unemployment rate, refugee population and number of asylum applications received.

As it prepares to make specific pledges at President Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees on 20 September 2016, and to assume the Chair of the Executive Committee of the United Nations Refugee Agency in October 2016, Canada faces further opportunities to lead by example by:

  • Championing a multi-stakeholder approach, including consultations with civil society and women’s rights organizations, ahead of the Summit;
  • Reaffirming its full commitment to and implementation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, its protocol and regional refugee instruments, and ensuring that all states uphold their obligation to provide asylum and protect refugees;
  • Working with states to strengthen accountability for International Humanitarian Law, and to resolve conflicts in Syria and elsewhere;
  • Providing predictable, multi-year funding to address root causes, drivers and effects of displacement and prevent protracted displacement, including by resourcing the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and adaptation measures set out under the Paris Climate Change Agreement;
  • Championing global responsibility-sharing for hosting refugees, while doing its part to ensure resettlement for all those identified by UNHCR as being in need of resettlement – that is, at least 10 per cent of the global refugee population annually – while providing additional and fast-track legal pathways, such as expanded family reunion, scholarships, labour migration schemes, medical evacuation and community and private sponsorships beyond that 10 per cent.
  • Outlining a gendered approach to expanded safe and fair routes for people to claim asylum, including by adopting new measures to: enable people to apply for asylum at embassies in their home or neighbouring countries; establish humanitarian visa schemes and temporary evacuation programmes; expand gender-sensitive family reunion opportunities for refugees; ensure basic standards for protection and prevention of gender-based violence inform the design and management of refugee camps, transit facilities and related infrastructure, including safe spaces for women and children; establish effective systems for the prevention of exploitation and abuse; enable civil society organisations with relevant expertise – including associations of displaced people – to register, work and access those in need of support.
  • Applying a gendered analysis of the dimensions of displacement, and adopting needs- and rights-based responses that save lives and protect people on the move and upon arrival, including assistance in the form of food, shelter and safe houses along dangerous migration routes, medical assistance, psychosocial support and adequate reception facilities;
  • Supporting local inclusion and self-reliance initiatives, including by taking into consideration gendered barriers to learning and providing all refugee children and youth with immediate access to education, wider access to higher learning and training, respecting rights and access to decent work and gainful employment for refugees, and upholding refugees’ – particularly women refugees’ – right to organize and participate in decision-making; and,
  • Recognizing the extraordinary contributions and responses of refugee-hosting countries and communities and increasing support for initiatives to combat xenophobic and racist violence and build social cohesion between host communities and refugees in line with the proposed global campaign outlined in the UN Secretary General’s report, In Safety and Dignity.

Canada should, additionally, offer to host a follow-up to President Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees two years hence.

Canadians are justifiably proud of the measures they have taken to address global forced displacement. Much more is however needed to uphold the human rights and address the urgent needs of millions of people uprooted from their homes and communities around the world.

Canada’s leading humanitarian organizations believe that the Government of Canada today faces a moment for global political leadership to uphold international law and respond to one of humanity’s greatest challenges.