Learning with the next generation: Human rights and global migration

By Garth Lester

From February 14 to 16, 2019, I had the privilege of joining about thirty other university and college students from across Canada for MCC’s annual student seminar in Ottawa. The focus of this seminar was ‘People on the Move: Human Rights and Global Migration,’ and this was reflected by the diverse body of attendees. A major element of this conference was recognizing that besides Indigenous Canadians, each of us can trace our lineage to immigrant ancestors; students arrived from across our large country, but we each also brought heritages from even further away, including Eastern Europe, South East Asia, West Africa, and the Middle East.


MCC Ottawa Office student seminar 2019 participants on Parliament Hill (MCC photo by Sara Peppinck)

Even before arriving in Ottawa, I was challenged to reflect on the incredible adversity faced by the millions of global refugees and migrants as they seek out peace for themselves and their families. Due to winter storms, I experienced several flight cancellations, re-bookings, and delays until I arrived at an unpleasantly early time in Ottawa. In the midst of my travelling difficulties, I knew that I had a network of resources to assist me if necessary; for many refugees and migrants, there is no safety net or alternative plan, but instead barriers and often unpredictable challenges.

Another major element of this conference was to develop a deep empathy for refugees and migrants, and to recognize that they are individual people with personal stories, dreams, fears and needs. It is important to listen to stories because that allows us to move beyond viewing people groups as statistics, and instead allows us to see others’ humanity and respond accordingly.

The seminar featured a number of incredible speakers who spoke about their personal involvement with global migration, as well as reflected on the needs that can be addressed by the average individual, like those of us attending. Nadia Williamson, from the UNHCR, explained the role and limitations of multilateral organizations like the United Nations, expressing that the private sector and civil society are needed to fully meet the needs of refugees and migrants. A panel of Canadian civil society actors further explained the importance of non-governmental organizations, especially to influence government. In addition, André Belzile, from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, presented the significant value in multi-state organizations and the state of Canada.

EEH_1150 (2)

Civil society panel with left to right: Deborah Mebude and Serisha Iyar from Citizens for Public Justice, Amy Bartlett from Refugee Hub, Doreen Katto from Matthew House (MCC photo by Sara Peppinck)

In collective, the speakers expressed the complex interconnectedness of the United Nations, the Canadian government, civil society, and the private sector—there is not one sector of society that will be able to independently generate positive change. In response to this reality, I see an obligation for me to be involved as an educated voting Canadian citizen, an advocate through civil society, and a compassionate and hospitable neighbour within my increasingly diverse neighbourhood.

As a democratic nation, Canadian citizens have the right and opportunity to have their voices heard and advocate for others. During this seminar, we heard several stories that stimulate hope, in which MCC and others successfully convinced the Canadian government and UN representatives to improve policies in response to the global refugee/forced migration crisis. When individuals come together, through petitions, letters to MPs, and meetings, we are able to actively influence our government.

A statement that stands out from the seminar is that as advocates, “we are not a voice for the voiceless, but we are lending our privilege as a megaphone” (Samantha Baker Evens). My Canadian citizenship and English heritage give me power and privilege, which I can use to empower others.

The role of being an advocate is dynamic as it involves listening to the individuals who are most affected by the crisis, educating myself on the issue, actively and tangibly caring for my newcomer neighbour, and pressuring those in power to change. This sounds like a tall order, and certainly not a task that can be handled alone. This seminar shed light on the importance of recognizing change, the obligation to respond, as well as showed me how groups and organizations, like MCC, can use their power to protect the human rights of refugees and migrants around the world.

– Garth Lester is a student at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC.


Abel Machaca: To be in the truth

This blog was originally published by MCC Latin America and the Caribbean (MCC LACA) on November 28, 2018.  

By Riley Mulhern

Photo by Anna Vogt

“They’re afraid of us now,” he told me, although looking at Abel Machaca’s kind, lined face doesn’t impose fear; his eyes and smile are more of an open invitation to friendship. His story though, one of tenacity in the face of ongoing struggle, belies his soft-spoken nature. He is a Bolivian David staring down Goliath, a threat to power from the most unlikely of places.

Abel is a herdsman. He and his brother care for about 200 sheep and 60 head of cattle on the family land, the same where they were born and raised. Their land lies at the heart of one of Bolivia’s most environmentally contentious and vulnerable areas where the interests of mining and politics, combined with climate change and drought all unhappily converge. Known as Yuracari, his community is nestled among a string of low hills near the small mining town of Poopó, almost equidistant between the Uru Uru and Poopó lakes, both recognized for their international ecological importance. Abel has watched from this front row seat his entire life as a drama of environmental deterioration and political apathy has unfolded before him.

Photo by Anna Vogt

He remembers the time during his childhood when the river ran freely and his family’s wells were sweet. When they didn’t have to worry about pasture for their livestock and the rains were more than enough. Today, the Desaguadero River that carries water down from the famous Lake Titicaca falters and fades into the earth before it ever reaches Lake Poopó. Lake Poopó has all but disappeared, converted to a thousand square kilometer expanse of blinding, white salt. His land too, which used to be a healthy, rich russet color, now shows signs of sickness: ugly stains of white, lead, and yellow from the salt and sulfur carried down from the mines. The wells they used to drink from have turned “spicy” and “undrinkable” and they have to rent out other pastures for their livestock part of the year.

Abel says he began to notice these changes as a boy, and they worried him. He studied hard and put himself through high school in the city of Oruro, about two hours away from his small community of Yuracari. Abel always had, in his words, “a dream of being able to help my entire region.” This vision even propelled him to pursue agronomy in the Universidad Mayor San Simon in Cochabamba, another six hours away from his home.

But despite this distance, his connection to his land and family never wavered. For years, he made the journey back to Poopó every ten or fifteen days to help his parents in the campo. His vision for “an improvement in the quality of life” of his community was never assimilated into an ambition for his own success or career; it was never a means of escape from his life as a farmer and herdsman. Indeed, when his father got sick and passed away, he left his studies and returned full-time to his community to help his mother. He never finished his degree. Instead, his decisions embody the Andean values of commitment to place, reciprocity in community, and responsibility to family.

Although the youngest of his siblings, Abel began to assume more and more responsibilities for the care of his family’s land and his community. As evidence of environmental contamination advanced year after year, specifically with regard to community concerns regarding the presence of toxic heavy metals in their water and soil, he began to take formal steps to advocate for his community among the local political authorities and mining operations themselves. But the obstacles were great.

“We always protested to the mining companies,” he tells me, “but they never paid attention to us. They always took us as if we don’t know anything … With the naked eye, physically, it’s obvious that there’s contamination, but they always said, ‘Show me. What contamination?’ They were the ‘experts’ who could always turn us in circles.”

Abel needed a way to make them pay attention. He needed a way to “actually show that we are actually right.” But how to overcome the evasive tactics of the powerful to ignore the claims of the community—this is the question the Israelites asked about Goliath in despair. Abel is a man far from despair, however, and not having a university degree did not stop him from the “search to be able to show them that we were really contaminated with certain metals.” He became one of the local leaders of his community, organizing and participating in political marches and campaigns for the protection of the environment and more responsible mining practices. At one march in particular, in 2013, Abel met someone who could help. Representatives from the Cochabamba organization Center for Communication and Andean Development (CENDA) were also there and interviewed Abel about his community and concerns.

As an authority in the community, Abel invited CENDA to Yuracari and asked for help in providing trainings and workshops to understand the environmental and mining laws to support their local advocacy. Eventually he developed an agreement with CENDA to continue working together. This was a concrete step—but it wasn’t enough. “What more could we do?” Abel asked himself. The question remained, “How can we demonstrate which metals or what chemical elements we are contaminated by?”

The idea emerged to develop a community-led environmental monitoring program of local waters so the community could collect the information they needed themselves. This was Abel’s slingshot. Experts in community water quality monitoring agreed to come from Peru to train Abel and other volunteers from Yuracari in using basic equipment to test water quality and interpret the results. CENDA provided Abel with a water quality testing kit of his own and he and others from his community began testing their community’s water every month.

Photo by Anna Vogt

“It’s been difficult,” Abel remembers. “The municipality makes it difficult for us to be monitors.” Instead of support, Abel and the others were at first met with resistance and confusion. When they went to the municipality saying they were going to monitor water quality, they were challenged: “Who authorized you?” they were asked.

“The technicians themselves thought they knew everything, that they were always right, not us,” Abel says. But despite the asymmetries of power, Abel pushed forward. “Over time we’ve kept practicing a lot, with workshops and trainings we’ve been getting stronger.”

Now, nine community members, five adults and four youth, are trained and actively participate in monitoring a network of locations throughout the watershed, above and below local mining operations. He was pleased when high school students from the nearby town of Totoral from the municipality of Antequera also joined the effort. Abel and the others compile results and report them to their municipalities, slowly earning recognition and respect. Abel was invited to present regarding his experience at a recent health conference in Oruro and is increasingly seen as a resource for other communities as someone who can answer questions about water quality.

Abel also works closely with MCC Bolivia’s partner, the Center for Ecology and Andean Peoples (CEPA), located in Oruro. CEPA supports Abel and other local leaders in their defense of the environment through political advocacy, technical community trainings, mining inspections, and coordinating grassroots efforts among impacted communities. Long-term, with the support of organizations like CENDA, CEPA, and MCC, Abel believes he can effect real change.

“The mining companies have they’re ways around all the demands we made. But not anymore … Now they listen to us,” he says. “In meetings that we have with the different government offices, we can easily explain our monitoring work and can say that these waters have poor quality … We’ve done it and we were right.”

When I asked how old he is, he smiled and shook his head. “Oh, plenty of years, but that doesn’t matter.” Despite his age, he is full of energy and wants to see grassroots monitoring groups grow and expand throughout the region. All that matters, he says, is that he is able to continue supporting communities to attain their right to information about their water and the environment. This is his new vision.

“Being a water quality monitor is satisfying,” he says. “So much can be achieved with information.”

Photo by Anna Vogt

– Riley Mulhern, from Louisville, Colorado and the First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, Colorado, served in Oruro, Bolivia with the Center of Ecology and Andean Peoples (CEPA) as part of the Seed II program with MCC Bolivia.

Together with coalition partners KAIROS and the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, MCC is urging ongoing advocacy to ensure Canadian companies operating overseas are held accountable for allegations of harm.

Please join us in expressing your support for an effective and fully independent Ombudsperson with strong investigative powers. Send a message to the Minister of International Trade.

For more information, visit Open for Justice.

Women making a difference

By Monica Scheifele

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the contributions and achievements of women. In thinking about the many accomplished women who have advocated for change and those who laid the foundations for women’s involvement in advocacy, I remembered hearing about an organization whose roots go back almost 60 years to the time of the Cold War. Perhaps it was their presence in Hanoi during the recent DPRK-USA summit that brought them to mind, but whatever the reason, this Women’s Day seemed the right time to highlight the organization known as Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW).

Canadian Voice of Women for Peace

Canadian Voice of Women for Peace photo

VOW has an interesting history as described in the documentary “Voice of Women: The first thirty years,” a film produced and directed by Margo Pineau and Cathy Reeves. The organization started in 1960 when nuclear war was a real possibility. As one early member, Anne Postans shared in the documentary, “I was appalled that we were playing at nuclear war instead of trying to find ways to solve our differences.” Women recognized how close the world was coming to nuclear war, so in May 1960 when Toronto Star columnist Lotta Dempsey challenged women to come together and do something, hundreds rallied, and by June an anti-nuclear organization called Voice of Women was born. By the end of its first year, it had over 6,000 members from across Canada.

Many of these first members had never advocated before as this took place in a time when women weren’t seen to have a place in the affairs of state. However, these women were not to be deterred. They produced newsletters, organized local meetings, public demonstrations, held forums, wrote letters to MPs, cabinet ministers, and local papers, as well as networked with women around the world.

In 1962 when Canada began to build bunkers to house nuclear weapons, VOW chartered a train and brought women from across Canada to Ottawa to confront politicians, particularly Prime Minister Diefenbaker, on the decision to accept 56 missiles capable of being armed with nuclear warheads from the US. VOW called on the government to declare Canada a non-nuclear state and to encourage the US to stop testing nuclear weapons. According to the film by Pineau and Reeves, politicians were non-committal but polite while the press was outraged referring to the delegation as “wailing women.”

In 1963 VOW sent a delegation to Moscow believing that women everywhere shared a desire for peace. On the way, they stopped in various European capital cities to meet with women and peace groups. In Russia, they attended an international congress with 7,000 women from 35 countries discussing strategies for international peace.

At home, the trip to Russia sparked allegations of communist infiltrations and take over. VOW members were accused of being ‘dupes’, ‘dirty Reds’ and ‘simple women who don’t really understand what they’re saying’. They were labelled traitors for talking peace and, as a result, lost many members.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the US and Russia tested over 200 nuclear weapons raising concerns about global contamination of the food chain. VOW initiated research into the effects of nuclear radiation from atmospheric testing of atomic bombs. They launched a campaign to educate the public about the dangers of fallout by having the baby teeth of thousands of children sent for testing of radioactive elements. This helped lead to the partial test ban treaty which stopped nuclear atmospheric testing, but not underground testing.

During the Vietnam war, VOW members visited North Vietnam in a show of solidarity with Vietnamese women and organized a campaign to knit blankets and baby clothing for Vietnamese children affected by attacks and bombings. Over 30,000 garments and blankets were shipped.

In 1969 VOW brought a group of North and South Vietnamese women to Canada for a storytelling tour. Since the delegation could not enter the US, several hundred American women came across the border to meet the Vietnamese women.

At the end of the Vietnam war, many women left VOW feeling their work was done while others remained, recognizing the need for further efforts to achieve peace and equality. Those who stayed helped found the National Action Committee on the Status of Women and the Canadian Peace Alliance. In 1978, VOW became one of the first Canadian peace organizations to be accredited at the UN.

As time went on VOW started looking at the root causes of war such as the way society condones and encourages aggression. As part of a campaign against war toys and TV shows with violence they met with toy manufacturers and attended trade fairs to educate others about the dangers of making war and killing a game. During the Gulf War, VOW organized demonstrations and went to Baghdad to speak to Iraqi women.

vow logoFor VOW the goal for a safe, just, and peaceful world has never changed but over the years the agenda has expanded to include inter-related issues such as ending violence, halting arms production, strengthening the UN and Indigenous reconciliation. As Stella Le John said in the documentary, “Change is possible, but only if people want it. We have the power but have to recognize that we have it.”

For more information on what Canadian Voice of Women for Peace is doing today, check out their website.

– Monica Scheifele is the MCC Ottawa Office Program Assistant

Engage with Nonviolent activism with Dr. Emily Welty this spring at the Canadian School of Peacebuilding in Winnipeg! Dr. Welty is Vice Moderator of the World Council of Churches Commission on International Affairs and is the chair of the Nuclear Disarmament Working Group. She is a core member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), recipients of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. From June 17-21 she will teach a course entitled Generous Dissent: Nonviolent Activism and Resistance. Follow the link to find out more!


Confronting the fear of our history

By Charity Nonkes

“Yet we Christians have also been called to take a good hard look at ourselves. To reflect on our Christian beliefs, to scrutinize our missional practices. And to decolonize. It’s not that Christianity is inherently colonial, but for generations the Church and its faith have been used – wittingly, unwittingly, and far too often – as instruments of dispossession in the settler colonial arsenal. Indigenous peoples are asking the Church to our own work, to beat our colonial swords into peaceable ploughshares.” – pg. xvi Unsettling the word

This is a quote taken from Unsettling the Word: Biblical experiments in decolonization. The book is a collection of Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors re-examining Biblical stories in order to reclaim the Bible as a tool for peacemaking from an instrument of dispossession. It was created by the Mennonite Church Canada’s Indigenous-Settler Relations program.

In the process of truth and reconciliation there is a great need for us all to critically analyze the forces that favoured Christian Europeans and their descendants over others. This work brings up hard questions concerning our identity and our justification for being on the land. When I look to my upbringing, Christianity was not perceived as an instrument of dispossession. Christianity brought community and belonging, but I was coming from a place of privilege and European ancestry.

In the early settlement of Canada, the government claimed it had the authority over the land to sell or grant it to settlers. The Doctrine of Discovery and Terra Nullius are concepts that the European powers used to justify the claim that land was theirs. These concepts provided a framework that said that North America was open to be ‘discovered’ because the indigenous population wasn’t Christian and therefore did not rightly own the land. Theology was used to create a narrative that the land was empty and therefore open for foreign powers to come and claim possession, leading to genocide and exploitation.

For the healing of others and ourselves, it is absolutely paramount for us all to understand the entire story of how Canada was established and the role of Christianity in it. In my experience destruction caused by Christianity is often ignored or hidden because of fear. This fear may be rooted in what these truths mean for who we are as a people – for our identity. This becomes especially difficult when our own histories are mingled with stories of fleeing persecution, hunger, and violence to find freedom in Canada. How do we reconcile it within ourselves that we have freedom in Canada but at the expense of Indigenous peoples? How can we do reconciliation work if we don’t address the truth of our history?

KAIROS banket exercise photo (002)

MCC Photo/Leona Lortie. University of Saskatchewan students participating in a KAIROS Blanket Exercise in 2015.

A part of this journey is to thoroughly examine the residential school system and the role of Mennonites. Mennonite Residential Schools in Northwestern Ontario were part of the larger residential school system that sought to eliminate Indigenous ways of life and ensure assimilation to Christian European practices. I have often heard the point that the Mennonites running these schools had good intentions but were misguided.

Good intentions are often clouded by privilege and ignorance of how oppression is engrained into society for the benefit of some over others. Anthony Siegrist, pastor at Ottawa Mennonite Church, has researched and written about Mennonite involvement in the residential school system.

Siegrist writes, “They (Mennonites) seemed sincere in their attempts to “improve” the lives of their Indigenous students. Many staff sacrificed comfort and pay to serve as they did. And yet they were complicit. Probably naïve, but still complicit. If you know anything about Mennonite Christians, you may know that historically ours is a minority tradition, a tradition rooted in martyrdom. We do not always realize the power of our own cultural connections or the power of skin color.”

The call for decolonization and a critical analysis of the role of Christianity in colonial history is a door that is often bolted shut because we fear what it will reveal about ourselves. However, this self-reflection is a healing process for us and everyone living on this land. Christianity has been used for destruction. Faith can also invite us towards reconciliation, as we learn new ways of reading the Bible.

The Church played an instrumental role in colonization and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples – no matter what the intentions were– we all must work to decolonize. The Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action challenges us to do this. Action 49 – We call upon all religious denominations and faith groups who have not already done so to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.

It is time for us to recognize the colonial swords that we all carry and beat them into peaceable ploughshares to till fields of truth and reconciliation.

Creator of this beautiful land,
What is truth and reconciliation
When truth is clouded by ideology and religion
Where there is seldom peace to reconcile back to

God of my ancestors,
You nurtured them when they fled persecution, hunger, and violence
They found peace and wealth in this land while others were removed from it
How do we reconcile with this?

God of truth,
What is truth when the Bible was used to justify the murder of Indigenous peoples
“…invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wherever placed”1
“Kill the Indian and save the man”2 – “take the Indian out of the child”3

God of reconciliation
Where do we go from here?
When divisions are like chasms
When hate and fear fuels public debates

God of the oppressed,
How can we be rooted to land that was stolen
How do we reach across the divides that were built to make exploitation easier
How do we decolonize ourselves, communities, and nations?

The TRC also calls us to adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as a framework for reconciliation (Action 48). Please join us in urging the Canadian government to fulfill its commitment to reconciliation and adopting UNDRIP by supporting the passage of Bill C-262 through the Senate. Send a message to all senators here.

If you would like to find out more about Bill C-262 watch this new short video produced by MCC and our collaboration partners.

1 Papal Bull Dum Diveras (Doctrine of Discovery) – https://doctrineofdiscovery.org/dum-diversas/.
For more information about Doctrine of Discovery –  https://vimeo.com/118735770

2 Colonel Richard Henry Pratt on the education of Native Americans in the United States – http://carlisleindian.dickinson.edu/sites/all/files/docs-resources/CIS-Resources_PrattSpeechExcerptShort.pdf

3 Sir John A. MacDonald – https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/chief-justice-says-canada-attempted-cultural-genocide-on-aboriginals/article24688854/

To find out more about the KAIROS Blanket Exercise visit: https://www.kairosblanketexercise.org/

Charity Nonkes is the MCC Ottawa Office Advocacy Research Intern


Refugee Resettlement: Where do we go from here?

by Brian Dyck

Brian Dyck

Brian Dyck, National Migration and Resettlement Program Coordinator for MCC Canada

None of us who work in refugee resettlement in Canada will forget 2015. The year started with an increase in the level of interest in refugee resettlement from the general public in Canada. In this changing environment, I took on national leadership for MCC’s refugee resettlement program. In an attempt to direct MCC resettlement efforts, a working group had been struck in late 2014 with communications and refugee resettlement staff to stimulate refugee resettlement of Syrians and Iraqis. There was a hope that we would resettle 2,020 Syrians and Iraqis by 2020—MCC’s centennial year.  Looking back now at a report recommending this, I noted in the margins, “…the number is too high… We will need to ‘change the channel’ to get somewhere on this.” By change the channel, I meant we would need to really work hard to get people’s attention.

Then in September 2015 just as we were about to launch our public awareness campaign with a scaled back goal of a few hundred refugees resettled, the image of Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a beach in Turkey hit the internet and resonated with people in Canada and around the world. Many wanted to do something, and the refugee resettlement program moved beyond our control.

Our plans, which focused on raising public awareness of resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees seemed superfluous; public awareness of the plight of Syrian refugees and the possibility of sponsorship was well known. Our task shifted to responding to inquiries and engagement at a level we had not seen since 1979 in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

MCC refugee sponsorshipThe scale of the shift can be told partly in numbers. If we use 2014 as a benchmark, 2016 saw an increase of 1,190% of the number of people sponsored through MCC in Canada. This was a seismic shift for MCC in Canada.

There wasn’t just an increase in numbers in 2015. Before the surge, we worked mostly with long-term partners and family members of the people sponsored. In 2014 we were working with around 20 Constituent Groups (CGs). By the end of 2016, we had more than 450 groups who were listed as active in our database, many being relatively new to sponsorship.

The level of activity has subsided somewhat since 2016. In 2018, MCC along with our wonderful constituent groups welcomed a bit more than 600 refugees to Canada—well below the 2016 peak of 1,824, but also well above most years in the previous few decades.

Sponsored refugee landing in Canada

estimate **government target

The government of Canada has made an increased commitment to refugee resettlement as well, through the various sponsorship models. In the 20 years between 1995 and 2014, about 3,725 privately sponsored refugees were settled per year. Since 2015 to the present, an average of about 17,600 privately sponsored refugees were settled per year. In other words, since 2015 there have been as many refugees privately sponsored as have been settled the previous 20 years.

What has that meant for MCC?

The last few years have brought both challenges and opportunities for MCC.

The huge increase in interest in refugee sponsorship among our constituents has allowed us to provide many more refugees with a durable solution in Canada. In addition, it has raised awareness of not just the human cost of war and violence for refugees in the Middle East, but other refugees that are in protracted displacement from places like Eretria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar.  Ultimately this has led to a better understanding and support for the role that we as private citizens and Christians in particular can play in “Welcoming the Stranger.” This rise in awareness of refugee situations is perhaps the lasting legacy of this surge in refugee sponsorship in Canada. This direct connection with refugees by many people in Canada can help us see another side of the issue when people start talking about turning back refugees. It is hard to do that when former refugees have become our friends.

Other states have either started a refugee sponsorship program or are seriously consider it. Often, they look to Canada as a model for sponsorship and refugee resettlement and MCC staff have been consultants to states and NGOs in South America and Europe.

While it has been exciting and energizing to help people get involved in this very meaningful work, it has also been challenging to meet the demand. On the plus side, it has spurred us to become more efficient and develop better practices for tracking and supporting sponsoring groups. However, this has stretched MCC resources of time, money and talent. We have a very talented and dedicated team working at MCC on refugee resettlement but finding the financial support for this team is challenging.

Looking ahead, we are beginning to ask ourselves where we go next. One of the things we have talked about is to make sure that the people who come to us who are interested in refugee resettlement are also thinking about the other responses to displacement. While the number of refugees we have helped in Canada has gone up significantly, it is still less than one percent of the refugees in the world. Because it is such a small solution to the problem of forced displacement, we need to consider how the less than one percent who are resettled have the most impact.  That means following the advice of agencies like the UNHCR who support refugees in their host countries as much as we can when we choose who to help resettle in Canada. That is a constant challenge. The pressure to resettle family members of those already in Canada is understandably relentless, even though there may be refugees who are in more dire situations.

It also means looking at ways we can address the root causes of displacement. We need to ask: why did these people have to leave their homes in the first place? It has been said that what we do to help refugees is something like pain-relief therapy for a sick person. If a person is in pain it is important to make sure that the pain is addressed in an effective way. However, we should not assume that pain relief is the cure. The cure for the global refugee crisis is peacebuilding. MCC works at that in a number of places around the world where there is conflict. Making sure that we are involved in dealing with the reasons people have for fleeing their homes is part of the cure. This is an important complimentary step for the crucial and very meaningful work of welcoming refugees into our communities.

Brian Dyck is National Migration and Resettlement Program Coordinator for MCC Canada.

Our New Year’s Prayer of hope

The following prayer was written by Carol Penner, a Mennonite pastor currently teaching theology at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario. Copyright Carol Penner  www.leadinginworship.com.

Lord, we stand at the door of this New Year,
thankful for the year behind us,
a gift through which we’ve lived and moved.
At this timely threshold,
with our feet poised to walk into 2019,
we turn to you with our prayer of hope.
Hope springs eternal when we walk with you.
Help us walk this year with you.
We hope that this will be a year filled
with joy, with love, with laughter,
a year filled with plenty and abundance,
with purpose and fulfillment.
But if the year brings hard times and hurt,
pain and sorrow, tears and trials,
we know that your care and comfort
will console us month by month.
Grace us with forgiving spirits.
As a community help us walk
with the happy and the sorrowful,
holding their stories tenderly.
We hope for peace in our time,
for an end to wild war music.
We long to hear the sound of governments
listening to their people,
heeding their pleas for justice.
We long to hear the sound of the children of the world
cheering together because peace has been declared,
and they do not have to fear anymore.
We hope for healing for our beloved earth,
for harmony and balance where we have caused
disharmony and unbalance.
This year, Lord, help us to feel in our bones
the beauty of this life, this world;
its sounds and sights and smells and tastes,
the lavishness of being
which you give us in seconds and minutes
and hours and days and weeks and months.
Move in us, have your way with us,
so that on the last day of this year
we can say, wholeheartedly,
this year has been a gift
through which we’ve lived and moved
as followers of Jesus Christ, Amen.

MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky

Global Compact on Migration Q&A

by Anna Vogt

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen will indicate Canada’s adoption of the Global Compact on Migration (GCM) on December 10 and 11 in Marrakech, Morocco, along with the majority of the world’s states. As such, the GCM has been receiving increased attention by Canadian media and in the House of Commons. So, what exactly is the Global Compact? Why is it necessary?  And what is Canada’s role?

Here are some key quotes and information from articles and stories, published over the last few months, that can help us unpack the Global Compact on Migration.

What is the Global Compact on Migration?

“The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration provides the first international and non-legally binding cooperative framework on migration. It is the result of a comprehensive process of discussions and negotiations among all Member States of the United Nations that started with the New York Declaration in 2016, unanimously adopted at the UN General Assembly in 2016.” The compact provides some guidelines on how states can respond well to migration, both by addressing the reasons why people are migrating, and providing avenues on how migration can be safer and regulated.

Source: Questions and Answers: what is the Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration? 

Why now?

One out of every 30 people worldwide is a migrant. The GCM contains basic principles to guide states so they can best address migration, in a way that encourages migration that benefits receiving countries and also doesn’t harm those on the move.  “Migration is a global reality, which no country can address on its ownIt therefore requires global solutions and global responsibility sharing, based on international cooperation. The Global Compact on Migration aims to foster international cooperation by setting out guiding principles and providing for a multilateral political framework. It deals with the complex nature of international migration by addressing a wide range of migration-related aspects, such as border management, smuggling and trafficking in human beings, migrant documentation and return and readmission, as well as diasporas and remittances.”

Source: Questions and Answers: what is the Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration? 

What about refugees? 

There is a separate Global Compact on Refugees.

On 19 September 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, a set of commitments designed to enhance the protection of refugees and migrants… In it, governments committed to work towards the adoption of two new agreements: a Global Compact on Refugees and a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. While neither Compact is legally binding, they contain important political commitments and signal an opportunity to improve the international community’s response to refugees and migrants.

The Refugee Compact was developed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in consultation with governments and other actors; a roadmap and the Compact website detail the steps taken in the process. An initial draft of the Compact was released in January 2018 and the final draft in July 2018. It was presented to the UN General Assembly in September 2018 in the UN High Commissioner’s annual report.

Source: The Global Compacts on Refugees and Migrants

What about Canadian sovereignty?

The Global Compact on Migration is not legally binding. Therefore, no legal obligations arise under domestic or international law for participating States. The Global Compact on Migration is based on the principle of full respect of national sovereignty. To quote: “The Global Compact reaffirms the sovereign right of States to determine their national migration policy and their prerogative to govern migration within their jurisdiction, in conformity with international law. The Global Compact on migration does not entail any transfer or restriction of national sovereign rights or competences. It is not an international agreement and will therefore have no legal effect on national legal systems and neither do obligations arise from it.”

What are some of the weaknesses of the GCM?

“The compact may have some inherent weaknesses, such as not sufficiently demonstrating that it will be relevant and actionable in member states with such contrasting migration features and policy approaches. Doubts also persist on the levels of financial resources that will be allocated to implement such a nonbinding and largely aspirational policy framework.” The non-binding nature of the GCM means that it is up to each state to decide how and when they will implement the practices within the GCM. Besides internal pressure from citizens, there is no way that states can be held accountable for failing to act in accordance with the GCM.

Source: What’s to fear in the UN Global Compact for Migration?

Leona and Bekah on Hill with Kati Garrison and Abby Hershberger from UN Office (2)

Abby Hershberger, Kati Garrison, Bekah Sears, Leona Lortie on Parliament Hill, August 2018

What has been the role of civil society?

MCC’s office in New York has been involved in advocacy around the Global Compact and ensuring that civil society is well represented since the negotiation and consultation phase. The office visited MCC country programs and heard from partners. MCC staff member Kati Garisson highlights MCC’s role in working with the NGO Committee on Migration, a civil society coalition in drafting a “Now and How: Ten Acts for the Global Compact.” This document represents civil society’s attempt to re-frame the conversation on migration to emphasize human dignity, full participation in discussion and solutions (especially honouring the multiplicity of migrant voices), development for all, and a commitment to implementing both existing international human rights law and labor conventions and protocols and the actions outlined in the Global Compact for Human Mobility and Migration.

You can also read about a visit from MCC New York staff to Canada to advocate for continued Canadian support for the GCM.

Additional Information:

A Glance at the Global Compact for Migration

Migration Data Portal 

MCC UN Office on Twitter

Anna Vogt is Director of the MCC Ottawa Office