Refugee advocates urge Ontario to stay at the table

Posted
July 9, 2018

A news release from Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) and others: Ontario civil society groups and refugee advocates urge the Government of Ontario to stay engaged in intergovernmental collaboration to resettle the large numbers of refugee claimants arriving irregularly in Canada from the United States.

The Ontario government has said it will step back from cooperating with the federal government on resettling refugee claimants. The Ontario response was reported by media following a recent meeting of the Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Irregular Migration attended by Lisa McLeod, Minister Responsible for Women's Issues and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.

"We believe Ontario must be at the table to speak to the interests and priorities of municipalities that are trying to resettle refugee claimants in their communities" said Debbie Douglas, Executive Director of OCASI - Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. "The right of refugee claimants to seek protection is safeguarded in Canadian law, which builds on Canada's international obligations" she added.

"Ontario has called on the federal government to cover the costs of refugee resettlement. If they really want the province and municipalities to be compensated they must be at the table" said Francisco Rico-Martinez of the Ontario Coalition of Service Providers for Refugee Claimants. "It is inhumane to risk making refugee claimants homeless to make a political statement. It is in violation of our international obligations and tradition, and Canadian values of social justice and human rights" he added.

"We are deeply disturbed by politicians and media inaccurately describing refugee claimants as illegal entrants into Canada. Asylum seekers have the legal right to cross the border to make a refugee claim" said Lobat Sadrehashemi, President of Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States prevents asylum seekers from making a refugee claim at a regular border crossing. As a result they are entering Canada irregularly in order to ask for asylum, which is not illegal.

"Refugee claimants are among the most vulnerable in our society. We all have a responsibility to treat them with respect and dignity and ensure their rights are protected" said Shalini Konanur, Executive Director of South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario. "Most importantly our own laws and the international treaties signed by Canada require us to do so" she added.

Read more: Refugee advocates urge Ontario to stay at the table