Transforming foreign policy on world refugee day

by Anna Vogt

June 20th marks World Refugee Day. Here in Canada, we historically use this as a day to remember those forced from their homes and to encourage hospitality and welcome. This year we continue to do so, but in a very different context from previous years.

Throughout the past year, from Chile to Lebanon to Colombia, ordinary people have been saying no to intrenched inequality and discrimination. In recent days, mass movements in the United States have demanded an end to police brutality and systemic anti-Black racism in the United States. In Canada, conversations are resurfacing about structural violence and the manifestations of white supremacy in policies that benefit some at the expense of others. The unequal impacts of COVID-19 echo what protestors shout: we have constructed a world in which some people are more vulnerable than others.

The journeys of over 79.5 million displaced peoples, the majority in the global south, are yet another symptom of inequality. On this June 20th let us remember those who are displaced, examine the root causes of forced displacement, and join in the Kingdom building work for transformation.

When examining root causes of forced migration, we do not have to look very far. Our current national and global structures have their roots in a violent colonial past intimately connected with forced displacement. The Doctrine of Discovery used theology as a justification for settlers to push Indigenous peoples from their lands. In Canada, Sir John A. MacDonald created the RCMP to displace and control Indigenous peoples in order to settle the prairies. European powers divided entire continents into countries and imposed borders in order to control access to resources, displacing millions and contributing to patterns of violent conflict and forced migration that continue today.

In Canadian foreign policy, examples of these same patterns are present in our mining and extractive sector, our trade policy, and our carbon use.

Canada is host to 75 per cent of the world’s largest exploration and mining companies. During multiple federal governments, Canadian embassies have advocated for relaxed regulations and used Official Development Assistance to support the mining sector. A recent report from Voices From the Ground: How the Global Mining Industry is Profiting from the COVID-19 Pandemic illustrates how mining companies are using the pandemic to further corporate interests as they continue to operate. Canada’s participation in this industry is associated with accusations of multiple human rights violations including links with armed groups. These activities contribute to increasing the risk of conflict, damaging the environment, and displacing people, the majority Indigenous or Black, from resource rich lands.

A view of the formerly Canadian owned Goldcorp Marlin Mine near San Miguel Ixtahuacn, Guatemala. The former open pit has been replanted with grass by Goldcorp. Active mineral extraction ended in 2017, although the clean-up has yet to be completed. There are concerns that the mine will expand operations in other parts of the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacn. MCC Guatemala partner Pastoral de la Tierra, part of the Dioceses of San Marcos, accompanies communities living near the mine to do advocacy around extrative industries and water/soil contamination in the area. (Anna Vogt/MCC Photo)

The Government of Canada announced the creation of the CORE (Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Business Enterprise) in 2018. This office was envisioned to be independent and investigate allegations of human rights abuses connected to Canadian companies operating abroad. However, in 2019, when the government announced the hiring of the Ombudsperson, they revealed that the CORE would have no investigatory powers. Without investigative powers, the Ombudsperson is unable to fully uncover and address countless claims of human rights violations occurring at the hands of Canadian mining and extractive companies.

Some Canadian trade agreements also contain measures for trade that do not respect human rights. The Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA), for example, allows Canada to access Israeli settlement products, produced on stolen land. Through this inclusion, CIFTA allows Canadians to benefit from the historic displacement and continued oppression of Palestinian communities. 

Protesters take part in an climate strike on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (MCC photo/Anna Vogt).

Canada is one of the 10 biggest greenhouse gas emitters in the world and has the second-highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita. Much of our own wealth as a country is due to development fostered by fossil fuels. Nearly 1,900 disasters triggered 24.9 million new displacements across 140 countries and territories in 2019. Many of these disasters are exacerbated by a changing climate. At the 2015 United Nations climate summit in Paris, Canada committed to bold action on climate change, but much work needs to be done to turn promises into implementation.  

While Canadian foreign policy may not be linked to every situation leading to forced migration or displacement, global policies that place profits and property over human lives, contribute to forcing millions from their homes.

 A Mayan altar of tortillas, beans, plantains, mangos, and oranges, on display as part of a justice pilgrimage of Pueblos Creyentes, grassroots communities of faith, to defend their land in southern Mexico from a proposed massive energy project. The altar combines Mayan and Christian traditions as incredible symbol of abundance and belonging on the land. (MCC Photo/Anna Vogt)

White supremacy and colonialism have trained us for centuries to see the world as a dangerous place full of competition for limited resources. As dominant white-settler societies, we miss seeing the alternatives and abundance that are all around us. Yet when we listen to communities and organizations, including those we partner with as MCC, we learn that there is more than enough for all to live with dignity. Values of abundance, of creation and community care, of practical solidarity and peacebuilding are lived out in creative ways among communities impacted by deep violence, both immediate and structural. The work of MCC partners enables people to choose whether to migrate and strengthens communities of welcome around the world. God’s Kingdom is already present in their work.  

A mural of Jesus breaking bread with migrants painted on the wall of La 72, a migrant shelter in Tenosique, Mexico. (MCC Photo/Anna Vogt).

When we start from a place of humility, trust in each other, and a willingness to listen, we can see the work for change that flourishes when tax dollars are transferred from our military and trade budgets to non-violent peacebuilding and human dignity work, directed and implemented by communities themselves. To do so can serve as a form of reparations for communities harmed through centuries of colonialism and structural violence. This is the work of transformation.

Get involved: Here are some action steps you can take as part of a learning and action journey towards foreign policy transformation to address root causes of forced displacement:

-Anna Vogt is the Director of the Ottawa Office


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