The recent spike in asylum seekers crossing illegally into Canada, the vast majority of them into Quebec, has prompted fears of a refugee overload the province could be hard-pressed to accommodate or afford.
While the numbers are historically high — 4,345 illegal border crossings into Canada in the first six months of the year, 3,350 of them into Quebec, government statistics revealed last week — they represent a relatively small proportion when compared to the more than 300,000 immigrants Canada welcomes each year, including more than 20,000 refugees.
Given the proven track record of the province and country to accommodate newcomers into their global mix, including the most recent influx, Quebec need not fear an inundation, said Jean-Nicolas Beuze, the representative in Canada for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which works to settle those displaced by war, violence, disaster or persecution. In fact, both Canada and Quebec should bring in even more refugees, for their own benefit and for those in need of safe haven.
“Canada is in a unique place, being an immigration country with a lot of systems and a lot services to integrate newcomers,” Beuze said in a meeting with the Montreal Gazette’s editorial board Monday. “So the capacity to integrate newcomers is huge in Canada and it’s what makes the fabric of the Canadian society.
“One of the arguments we are making is: why not choose people from the refugee population, not just to give them a better chance, but the ability to survive?”
Canada is already among the world’s the top-10 donors to the UNHCR, giving $150 million annually. It also ranks among the top three nations along with the U.S. and Australia in terms of accepting refugees identified by the United Nations organization as at risk of death if they do not find a new home. They include rape victims who need life-saving medical treatment unavailable in their countries, journalists targeted by the state, residents persecuted for their sexual orientation, and those suffering from cancer and AIDS in nations with inadequate care facilities.
Canada takes in 9,000 of those individuals a year. Unfortunately, the UNHCR has identified 1.2 million people worldwide whose survival depends on resettlement. Nearly half a million of them are from Sub-Saharan Africa, which has been displaced in headlines by the crisis in the Middle East, particularly the plight of Syria.
While the eyes of the world and funding dollars are drawn to those fleeing bombs dropped on cities in the Mideast, where 60 per cent of UNHCR funding requests are met, countries in Africa that account for 50 per cent of the world’s displaced often receive only 30 per cent of the funds needed. Lesser-known countries like Burundi might receive only two per cent.
Also overlooked are Central American nations like Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, where teenagers have been fleeing to Mexico to escape forced conscription into street gangs, but are blocked from getting into the U.S. because of more stringent border security under the Donald Trump administration.
While Canada under Justin Trudeau is positioning itself as a global leader on the refugee and global displacement scene, Beuze said, his organization is hoping the country can put more of its money and hospitality where its mouth is. Governments typically restrict refugee numbers for fear of economic burden and political repercussions. In the 1980s and ’90s, however, the country accepted nearly twice as many UNHCR recommended refugees. Statistics have shown refugees typically match other immigrants in terms of economic success after 10 years in the country, and their offspring outperform their peers academically.
“There are 1.2 million who need resettlement, otherwise people are going to die,” Beuze said. “It’s really a question of survival, not finding a better place to stay. Of that number, Canada will take 9,000. Our advocacy has really been on the government of Canada to accommodate more of those 1.2 million.”