In the middle of winter, the icy and barren border between the United States and Canada is the last place anyone would want to be. Let alone, to be out walking without sufficient clothing, carrying what little that you own in duffle bags and rolling suitcases. However, this unforgiving landscape is exactly where hundreds of refugees have found themselves as they continue their difficult and dangerous journey to find somewhere to be safe.
Nearly 450 refugees crossed from the United States into Canada between January 1 and February 21, 2017 by walking through the bitter cold into Quebec, Manitoba, and British Columbia, some losing fingers and toes to the frostbite.
Crisis for Humanity
The tragic experiences of these refugees are not isolated and they are not rare. Millions of people are continuing to flee the wars, occupations and destruction caused by U.S.-led intervention in the Middle East and Africa. In 2016, the United Nations (UN) announced the world was facing the largest refugee crisis ever seen. 65.3 million people on this planet have been displaced from their homes.
More than 80% of refugees fleeing their homes stay in the region which they have fled according to the UN Refugee Agency. Turkey, for example, is hosting more than 2.8 million Syrian refugees and refugees in Lebanon now make up one-fifth of the population of the entire country. What the last two years have shown the world, however, is that staying the region is no longer an option for millions of displaced people. They have been forced to leave the Middle East and Africa entirely, risking their lives for Europe because there is just nowhere else that they can be.
In the face of this tragedy, first 2015, then 2016 became the deadliest year ever recorded for refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea. As reported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in 2016 alone, over 5,000 people lost their lives in its unforgiving waves. Just this year, more than 485 refugees have already drowned as they have continued to flee the devastation of imperialist intervention in their countries.
Europe Continues to Fail Refugees
For more than two years, European countries have claimed to be working on a “solution” to the refugee crisis, but the situation for refugees in Europe is worse than ever before. Since 2015, only 13,546 refugees have been relocated within Europe from make-shift refugee camps in Greece and Italy, where tens of thousands of refugees have been forced to live. The number of refugees stranded in these overcrowded, often dirty and unsafe camps continues to grow.
The United Kingdom is one example of the inhuman and callous response to the refugee crisis in Europe. In 2016, the U.K. resettled less than 3,000 refugees. To put this in perspective the IOM reported that nearly 365,000 refugees landed in Europe that same year.
In France, Social Workers Without Borders has visited the centres for refugee children that were once living in the make-shift refugee camp in Calais, France. They found that "...some of the centres fail to provide adequate support for the deteriorating mental wellbeing of most of the youngsters, including a 14-year-old boy who has attempted suicide multiple times." In many cases, these children are in France because they have been denied entry into the U.K.
U.S. President Trump's ban
Then there is the completely inhuman response of the United States to the refugee crisis, both under President Obama and now under President Trump. Over the eight years that Obama was President of the U.S. only 18,000 Syrian refugees were resettled in the United States (Migration Policy Institute). In fact, during the refugee crisis, from September of 2015 - September 2016, only 85,000 refugees from anywhere in the world were re-settled in the United States.
Now, the U.S. government has launched an assault on refugees. At the end of January, President Trump issued an executive order halting the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, and banning Syrian refugees for an indefinite period. At the same time, this order also barred entry into the United States for visitors, immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Although most of this order is now held up in the court system, President Trump is expected to issue another similar order in March. However, one part of the order that remains in place is a cap on the number of refugees that will be accepted in the U.S. this year at 50,000.
Canada and the Refugee Crisis
Despite not yet being able to implement a complete ban on refugees, President Trump’s executive order did introduce a new wave of fear into the immigrant and refugee community in the United States. One result of this fear campaign, as well as the growing campaign of racism and Islamophobia that preceded it, was an increase in the number of refugees crossing from the U.S. into Canada over the last few months. For example, during the month of January, the border crossing at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec reported that they had received 452 asylum seekers, up from usual rates of 10-20 per month.
The refugee support group in Vancouver, the Settlement Orientation Services, has also reported that they have already received 60% more refugees then they would expect to see in an entire year, with most of them coming from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The fear mongering by the U.S. government is one factor that brings refugees to cross the border into Canada. Another factor is the Canada’s false image as a country that welcomes refugees with open arms. Through a well-crafted public relations campaign, the government of Canada has been able to build themselves up as a so-called good example of a how a government in the West should respond to the refugee crisis. But, what really is the reality for refugees in Canada?
One day after President Trump issued the executive order, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent out a Tweet - "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada”
To most people, this would sound like an appeal to refugees to come to Canada, especially those that had been the target of persecution in the United States. This, however, is not apparently what the government of Canada meant. In fact, contrary to this tweet, the Liberal government lowered the cap on the number of refugee applications, and the number of refugees that would be allowed into Canada this year was lowered as well to 40,000.
The government of Canada’s policy towards refugees is also further exposed through the Safe Third Country agreement with the United States. The Safe Third Country agreement is still in place to this day, meaning that refugees are not able to claim asylum in Canada at an official U.S./Canada border crossing and are forced to risk their lives to cross into Canada irregularly to have a chance at staying.
Beyond these recent responses to a continuously growing refugee crisis, the government of Canada also failed to fulfill their promise of bringing 25,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees to Canada. In fact, to this day they have only brought 21, 876. Including private sponsorship, a total of 40,081 Syrian refugees have been settled in Canada since November, 2015. This is nothing when compared to the more than 11 million people in Syria who have been displaced by the U.S.-proxy war on their country.
On February 21, 2017, the government of Canada announced that they would be accepting 1,200 Yazidi refugees from Northern Iraq this year. However, rather than being a gesture based in humanity, this decision is a calculated political maneuver. Yazidi’s are not Muslim, so any U.S. “Muslim-ban” would not apply to them. Yes, the Yazidi people, as with all other victims of Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) need to be granted refugee status, but their case carries the same urgency as millions of other refugees fleeing wars and occupation in the Middle East and North Africa.
Already, Canada ranks 20th in world for the number of refugees accepted per capita. As of 2014, Canada had accepted 1 refugee for every 2000 people in Canada, less than 0.5% of the population. So, where is the #WelcomeToCanada for refugees from Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and all countries where Canada has a history of intervention and destruction? What about refugees from Afghanistan, where Canada deployed their largest military mission since World War II? In fact, in the years between 2010 and 2015 Canada settled less than 2,000 refugees from Afghanistan. And this is a country that Canada helped to destroy with more than 40,000 troops over 13 years.
What About Refugees Who Claim Asylum in Canada?
It is also important to examine Canada’s treatment of refugees that claim asylum once they are in Canada. These refugees, including those that are walking through the U.S./Canada border in the middle of winter, are first processed by Canada’s Border Services Agency (CBSA), often after being arrested by the RCMP. If the refugees can prove their identities and are not deemed a threat to Canada, they are supposed to be released into Canada to await a hearing in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board.
This, of course is not always the case and some refugees are held in detention centres across the country. As the CBSA reports, at any given time there are 450-500 people detained in Canada, some of whom are detained in jails although they have committed no crime. Since 2000, 15 immigrants and refugees have died while being held in detention centres in Canada.
Canada is also a country that allows for the indefinite detention of immigrants and refugees, including children. A recent study by the University of Toronto’s international Human Rights program reported that an average of 48 Canadian-citizen children were detained at the immigration holding centre in Toronto each year, not to mention the hundreds of non-citizen children. This includes children that are detained for years, unable to go to school while the immigration and refugee cases of their parents are settled.
Despite the growing refugee crisis, the government of Canada is not preparing to take in more refugees. It has been reported by CBC that there is a lack of CBSA officials to deal with the increasing number of asylum claims, meaning more and more refugees must wait in detention and uncertainly. Canada’s Minister of Immigration has also claimed a shortage of personal to process refugee applications as a reason for lowering the cap. Instead of claiming not enough workers to process applications, putting the lives of thousands of people in limbo at best, and danger at worst, how about they just hire more people to do the work?
Open the Borders NOW! End Wars and Occupations!
Despite what mainstream media and U.S. President Trump would like people to believe, being an immigrant is not a crime. Being a refugee is not a crime. Crossing a border between the U.S. and Canada or floating on an unstable rubber dingy through the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy, these are not crimes.
In 2016, 40% of all the refugees who risked their lives crossing the deadly waters of the Mediterranean were from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. This is evidence that it is state-sponsored terrorism of the U.S. government and their allies that have torn entire societies and countries apart. This, Mr. Trump is the crime.
Whether in Europe, the United States or in Canada, refugee resettlement programs have amounted to little more than empty gestures for millions of refugees. However, these are the exact countries that need to be taking responsibility for their murderous actions. These are the countries that must instead open their arms to refugees, granting them immediate human, democratic and legal rights.
Ultimately, the only solution to the refugee crisis facing humanity today is an end to imperialist wars, occupations and interventions in the Middle East and Africa. However, countries like the U.S. and Canada must also respond to the crisis before them today. To even begin to alleviate the human suffering caused by their warheads and fighter jets, the United States must accept at least 500,000 refugees immediately. The government of Canada, for its role as a major imperialist aggressor and ally of the United States must also take responsibility and immediately accept 200,000 refugees.
There would be no refugee crisis if there were not wars, occupations by imperialist countries and U.S.-led foreign intervention in the Middle East and Africa.
Follow Alison Bodine on Twitter: @Alisoncolette
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