Since 2004, the Canada-United States Safe Third Party Agreement has been in effect. Adopted in the wake of 9/11, the agreement states that Canada and the US declare the other country safe, and that refugees must make their claim in the country where they land. Under this rule, a refugee trying to get to Canada through the US would first need to clear US refugee restrictions.
This policy has been opposed by refugee organizations and civil rights group since it was first presented. For starters, the United States has not been a safe country for all refugees, and the agreement limits who can claim for refugee status in Canada.
If ever there was a need to clarify why Canada's refugee policy should be sovereign from the US, this week's travel ban makes the case for a thorough examination.
The Trump administration has effectively barred refugees from Syria, halted all refugee admissions for four months, and stopped entry of people from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for three months.
The ban unjustly targets Muslims all over the world and exacerbates the systemic racism faced by Muslim people in the United States. In that sense, Trump is following a policy of racism and xenophobia while creating a climate of violence and fear – all reasons why the ban must be opposed and defeated.
To cut through the rhetoric, some clarifications need to be made:
Refugees come to Canada because they are fleeing violence, fear of repercussion, or situations where their personal safety is at risk.
Refugees are often fleeing wars in which Western countries have played an instigating role. It is the case of Syrian refugees, for example, who have been the latest group of displaced people due to violence and war.
While countries should have screening processes in place to handle refugee claims, it is important to acknowledge and understand that the vast majority of refugees are average people seeking safety for themselves and their families.
A refugee claim is not a request to immigrate to a country. Refugee status grants access for a limited amount of time. Requesting to immigrate to Canada is another process and falls under other regulations. While the two processes can be connected, the rules for each are different. Refugees and immigrants are not always the same people, and it important to be cautious when governments try to paint everyone with the same brush.
If Canada is the welcoming country it claims to be, it must put words into action and make space for refugees. That's why Canadians say: "Refugees are welcome here."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made a strong statement regarding Trump's travel ban, but it needs to be backed up with some critical policy changes. Sovereignty for Canada's refugee program is a necessary step towards opposing Trump's bombastic approach in the US. As Canadians, we have a responsibility to put pressure on the Canadian government to oppose measures such as the travel ban and improve Canada's policies so that they are welcoming and fair.