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OPINION: Canada doesn’t have a refugee crisis, it has a crisis of confidence

The Ottawa Citizen by Paula Ethans 19 December 2018

In the last two years, as irregular border crossings have increased, migration has become a hot button issue. And discussions on the UN Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration have recently brought our migration policy to the forefront of Canadian political debate. 

As Dec. 18 is International Migrants Day, it seems an appropriate time to remind Canadians: There is no refugee crisis.

According to Public Safety Canada, approximately 318 migrants a month cross our border. While this is certainly a strain on already-scarce resources, it is not a crisis.

Compared to other counties, these numbers are minute. This past year, Bangladesh has welcomed 700,000 Rohingya from Myanmar. Uganda has welcomed one million refugees from South Sudan, and Colombia currently has 5,000 asylum-seekers each day crossing its border from Venezuela.

For us to proclaim that Canada has a refugee crisis is to ignore realities around the world, where developing countries are welcoming migrants by the millions. To suggest that Canada has a refugee crisis is panic-inducing, misleading, and/or uninformed.

The numbers don’t signal a crisis, and neither do the manner of entry or character of the asylum applicants.

While the system is not perfect – wrought with long wait times – the system is working as intended. In fact, the reason the wait is so long is because our processing is meticulous and our institutions refuse to compromise the system’s integrity.

Each person who comes to our border submits themselves peacefully to our process and anyone who poses a security threat is appropriately dealt with by our officials. The National Post has reported that “few if any of those crossing the border seem to represent a security threat.”

Yet, politicians and journalists conflate statistics and use inflammatory language to turn this relatively innocuous occurrence into an egregious security threat. They take a valid concern – ensuring that we fairly process the higher volume of claimants – and twist it into a Trumpian cry of nationalism masked in concerns about security. 

Our national rhetoric is fraught with people stoking these xenophobic flames. They have referred to the U.S.-Canada border crossings as “illegal,” despite knowing (or at least, they should know, as politicians and journalists) that there is nothing illegal about seeking asylum.

In fact, seeking asylum is a fundamental legal right. Under the 1951 Convention on Refugees, a person is required to be physically present in the country in which they are claiming asylum. The border crossings from the U.S. are “irregular” insofar as they are not at an official port of entry, but the manner of arrival has no bearing on the legality of a claim.

Some journalists and politicians also try to undermine Canada’s immigration system by insisting the system is not lawful, coordinated or fair. This is incorrect, as the UN has found Canada to have one of the most robust migration systems in the world. 

This incorrect, inflammatory language has led too many Canadians to reject our longstanding immigration policy, which has been a point of national pride for many decades.

So it must be repeated: There is no refugee crisis in Canada. People are seeking asylum – as is their human right – through legal channels created by our own Parliament.

We have a system for a reason: to welcome those seeking safety. We have a system that works: screening everyone in a secure manner by our officials. We have an economy to support newcomers: our strong social security system exists to help those struggling.

There is nothing to fear. Canada is a leader in safe, responsible migration policies. By letting more people seek asylum, we are not floundering – we are doing exactly what we should.

Paula Ethans is an articling student at a human rights firm in Ottawa, and a past intern with UNHCR Malaysia and ORAM-Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration.