Refugee aid under the Liberal government

Although, Canada has proven to be a middle power through its history of humanitarianism, lately, our country has been making some questionable decisions. Part of Canada’s history of humanitarianism comes from its leadership in supporting refugees. This was especially noticed when Justin Trudeau brought in a substantially increased number of refugees in 2016. This increase was due to Trudeau’s commitment to raise numbers and resettle more Syrian refugees. In his platform, Trudeau committed to a goal of accepting 25000 Syrian refugees through government sponsorship by the end of 2015. As seen from the beginning, Trudeau has repeatedly stated that the Liberal Party will make Canada a welcoming and open country to those fleeing war and persecution.


The Safe Third Country Agreement

Now in 2019, Trudeau is backtracking on his claim of being a welcoming country by reinforcing border security against irregular asylum seekers. The Safe Third Country Agreement that Canada signed with the US, states that asylum seekers cannot make a refugee claim in a country other than the first country they arrived in. With this agreement and with the controversial politics the US has against immigrants and refugees, many asylum seekers have been finding loopholes in the system and have crossed borders irregularly in order to get past the Safe Third Country Agreement rules. This has led to an influx of asylum seekers and a backlog in the refugee claimants system, causing Trudeau to crack down on border crossing laws.

Yes, the unexpected number of refugee claims coming from irregular asylum seekers has slowed down an already slow process, but is strengthening border security and turning down asylum seekers the best approach? It certainly does not seem fit, under the Liberal government’s claim of being a welcoming country. By the end of 2018, there were 70.8 million displaced people worldwide, and this number is on the rise. With this alarming number, Canada should be taking an approach that helps as many people as possible.


A different approach

Instead of spending $1 billion on strengthening border security to ensure asylum seekers go through the refugee process appropriately, Trudeau should stick to his human rights oriented approach and consider revising the benefits of the Safe Third Country Agreement. The funding used to strengthen border security at illegal border crossings should instead be put into funding for refugee sponsorship and housing. This will, in turn, speed up the claimant process and allow for more refugees to go through government sponsorship once arriving to Canada.


Sticking to the political agenda

This is not the first time Justin Trudeau has gone against his political agenda. The 2014, $15 billion Light Armored Vehicle Agreement with Saudi Arabia caused great controversy in Canada, as our country was selling military equipment to a country involved in corrupt behavior. Stephen Harper signed the agreement in 2014 but many expected Trudeau to cancel it, as it would seem contrary with his political agenda. Once Trudeau came into power, he did not cancel the agreement but rather completely removed human rights restrictions in order to simplify the agreement. Given this example along with the refugee issue, it is hard to ignore that Trudeau has gone back on his political agenda multiple times in the past. If the Liberal government claims to be a human rights oriented party, it should stick to its original plan.

It is clear Canada lacks a rational strategy to strengthening our refugee system. We must decide if we still want to partake in the Safe Third Country Agreement and continue to send refugees back to the US, or do we want to revise the agreement and take action by improving our sponsoring system and increase funding to communities who can support these people in need. Yes, there are drawbacks. How will we get the funding from the government? Will revising the Safe Third Country Agreement hinder our ties with the US? These are all valid questions. But in my opinion, it is time to start thinking of a plan.

The pattern of favoring politics over humanitarianism requires a call for action. If Canada wants to go back to being a leading country in humanitarianism and on the world platform, priorities need to be revised. Whether it is allowing more refugees to resettle in Canada, or by not providing nations involved in corrupt behavior with military equipment, Canada’s nature to help people should be put first.


Sajra Trto is a MSc student taking Health Science, Technology and Policy at Carleton University.

Featured images courtesy of Wikipedia.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect iAffairs’ editorial stance.

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