Migrants in Canada are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to unite families and dole out full immigration status this Father’s Day, which coincides with World Refugee Day.
The Migrants Rights Network slammed the federal government’s initiatives aimed at supporting the flow of more refugees into the country in a release on Sunday, saying they fell “incredibly short.”
“Existing ‘pathways’ and new temporary programs recently announced by the government continue to deny permanent status to the majority of migrants, particularly undocumented residents,” said Sarom Rho, organizer of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change in Toronto.
“Despite talk of being a ‘welcoming’ country and wanting to improve rights for migrant workers, Canada only accepted 25,000 refugees in all streams in 2020, a 50 per cent reduction from the previous year.”
A spokesperson from the office of the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship refuted this, saying that global migration has been upended by the pandemic, forcing the country’s entire resettlement system to operate at reduced capacity.
An array of issues, including travel restrictions and difficulties getting documents, medical checks and the temporary shutdowns of international partners, such as the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has also significantly slowed down the process, the source said.
In spite of this, Canada still has some of the highest numbers of any country in the world when it comes to resettling refugees.
On Friday, the federal government unveiled three new measures to welcome more refugees into Canada, including a private sponsorship program and increasing the number of protected persons allowed into the country this year from 23,500 to 45,000.
Addressing the nation in a statement on Sunday, Mendicino said Canada welcomed nearly half of all refugees resettled around the world in 2020, noting that even the UNHCR recently called Canada “a bright light in a horrible year for refugee resettlement.”
“Throughout the pandemic, Canada has been one of few countries that never stopped resettling refugees in urgent need of our help. While others close their doors, we keep them open,” he said.
Trudeau also touted Canada’s record of accepting migrants in a separate statement.
“Canada has a proud humanitarian tradition of protecting the world’s most vulnerable people and, today, we continue to open our borders and our hearts to those seeking safety and refuge from persecution and violence,” he said.
The prime minister also emphasized the launch of a new refugee stream for human rights defenders at risk, which he said will make Canada one of the first countries to offer such protections.
But according to Migrants Rights Canada, they aren’t enough.
“The protected persons quota has been increased for 2021 to 45,000 but the current backlog is at 68,300, while most refugees are unable to make applications,” the release said, adding that just 18,500 people — less than one-third of last year’s 58,378 applications — were able to apply in 2020 due to border closures and immigration processing changes prompted by COVID-19.
It also criticized changes made to the federal government’s Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot for adding just 500 refugee spots to the initiative while a new path to residency for 90,000 essential temporary workers announced in April excluded refugees altogether.
And even as Canada prepares to accept more refugees, it has sought to prevent asylum-seekers from coming into the country via its land border — either through its Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States or through a COVID-19 policy being contested in court.
Julie Diesta, a member of the Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights, said migrant care workers are often subject to abuse, job loss and years-long waits for responses to their permanent residency applications.
“The government’s ‘pathway’ programs, with their unfair language, education and work requirements, are traps that force care workers to stay with exploitative employers and leave them in limbo, separated from their families, for years,” she said.
“We are done waiting — we need full and permanent immigration status for all migrants now.”
— With files from Reuters