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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Persistent faithfulness as an approach to community transformation

by Christopher Lortie

Many people begin the New Year by making resolutions, a decision to remove something or to incorporate something new in one’s life. I have to admit that I did not make any “official” resolutions this year, although I have recently made an effort to include more fitness activities in my life. I write ‘effort’ because ‘commitment’ may be too strong of a word. This is often the case with New Year’s resolutions. For many of us, it doesn’t take too long until they are forgotten.

Looking back, I often find that my New Year’s resolution goals were too big and unrealistic. The process usually ends in disappointment when I have to accept that I am not meeting my goals.

A similar feeling comes to mind when I consider the state of peace and justice in the world. Currently, I don’t think I need to argue too forcefully that reading or watching the news can create a feeling of despair when wondering about the lack of peace and justice in the world.

Like personal resolutions, promises made by governments toward large scale domestic or international initiatives seem to fade away soon after commitments are made. News headlines can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to imagine any measurable impact our actions could make – or even where to start.

I recently preached a sermon looking at 1 Peter, which I believe provides us with some direction and hope when feeling overwhelmed by the state of the world. In this context, the New Testament church was facing the reality that Jesus’s return wasn’t happening as quickly as they expected and the realization that they would have to settle into everyday life. Peter presents a way forward for the church, responding to how members of the church are to engage with the world around them, as well as how the church should engage with each other in community life.

Peter argues that those who make up the church should do what is “good” or “right” in the places they find themselves (e.g., 1 Peter 2:15, 20; 3:16; 4:19). They should embody Christ in all situations. This is why Peter uses language from Isaiah 53 – what is often called the suffering servant song – extensively in 1 Peter 2 describing how to take on the role of the suffering servant as Christ did, modeling Christ’s actions, especially in vulnerable situations. This might not sound like a very satisfying option for those who are presently experiencing forms of severe oppression; however, Peter believes that persistent faithfulness would be transformative in the context of the New Testament church.

In the context of community, Peter suggests a response which focuses on love and hospitality where each individual contributes their gifts and talents. He emphasizes that each person should excel with the gifts and opportunities they have been given. Each person has something to contribute, and Peter invites them to do well in their area of giftedness.

First Peter 4:8–11 reads, “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” (NRSV).

When working for peace and justice, let us start by using our gifts in the places that we find ourselves. We all have unique talents and a sphere of influence, and with these gifts and in these places, we have a solid foundation.

More than a few times in my life, I have made the New Year’s resolution to start running. The problem is, I really don’t like running. The concept of persistent faithfulness reminds me of a time when as a teenager I had to participate in running exercises as part of a training routine for my hockey team. At first, I put almost no effort into this training, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to complete the run.

A change happened when I realized that since I had to do it, I might as well do it to the best of my abilities. As I ran, I would set small goals that allowed me to focus on accomplishments. I would pick a sign or landmark that was fairly close and simply focus on making that goal, and then I would pick another and another. My running time reduced significantly, and I actually began to enjoy the experience.

Rather than giving in to that despairing feeling about the state of our world today, we can apply Peter’s message to the church. We can set small goals or find a sign or landmark that we can run to and not be discouraged by the great overall distance we have ahead of us – one step at a time.

For example, we might not be able to solve the global migration crisis, but we can extend hospitality to newcomers who are in need of friendship and care. Our next goal might be to start informing ourselves about relevant conversations in our community, then our province and our country relating to Canada’s immigration policies. The more we learn and the more we get involved, the more opportunity we will see to use our gifts within our current and potential future sphere of influence.

Solving the great problems of the world can be overwhelming and seem impossible, but when we use our gifts through the concept of persistent faithfulness to be a positive influence, we might find ourselves empowered to do more than we thought was possible.

Christopher Lortie is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Providence University College in Otterburne, MB.

Photo credit: MCC Photo/Colin Vandenberg

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

 

The Global Compact – Part 2: Canada’s role and MCC’s advocacy asks

Over the last year, MCC UN Office staff, Kati Garrison (Program and Advocacy Associate) and Abby Hershberger (Program Assistant), have been following the process of drafting the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) document (see Part 1 in this blog series). Both attended GCM negotiations to ensure to establish a connection between the high-level processes in New York with national governments, including the Canadian Mission, and MCC’s on the ground programs.

Throughout the GCM drafting process, Canada positioned itself at the forefront of the effort to create a framework that is beneficial to all. The MCC UN Office was pleased that many of Canada’s interventions addressed the importance of intersecting gender sensitive language in the GCM document. This contributed to a final draft that recognizes the additional challenges that women face when migrating. Many women and their children face obstacles when trying to confirm their nationality in a country of destination, which can leave them stateless and unable to access essential services. The finished text incorporates suggestions to remedying these challenges including, “ensuring that women and men can equally confer their nationality to children born in another state’s territory, especially in situations where a child would otherwise be stateless” (Objective 4e).

However, as we anticipate the installment of the GCM at the upcoming summit in Morocco in December, it is critical to keep momentum going behind member states like Canada and making the move from high level negotiations to practical steps. December’s summit will be more than just formalizing the GCM, as member states have been asked to submit proposals for specific actions to help put the principles of the compact in motion.

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

For that reason, at the end of August, Kati and Abby, along with MCC’s Ottawa Office staff, Bekah Sears (Policy Analyst) and Leona Lortie (Public Engagement and Advocacy Coordinator) reached out to Canadian Members of Parliament from various parties, to ensure the GCM and its principles were high on the Canadian government’s radar, and that Canada continues being a leader on global migration.

These are our three primary advocacy asks:

  1. Grant migrants access to basic services free from the risk of having their personal information shared with immigration enforcement officials.

Objective 15
The GCM acknowledges a shared responsibility among member states “to ensure that all migrants, regardless of their migration status, can exercise rights through safe access to basic services.”        

  1. Uphold the human right of non-refoulement.

Objective 21
Non-refoulement is a tenet of international human rights law that prohibits states from returning migrants to situations when there are “substantial grounds for believing that the person would be at risk of irreparable harm upon returning, including persecution, torture, ill-treatment or other serious human rights violations.” The principle remains contentious among some member states who want more control over how they conduct returns.

  1. Include civil society and migrant voices as integral components in implementing the GCM.

Implementation
The text of the GCM is lengthy and detailed, but the way member states implement the commitments will be the true test of the weight of its words. MCC, both the UN and Ottawa offices believe that effective action plans must include multiple actors, including civil society and migrant voices.

Our MCC team had productive and encouraging conversations with each MP office and is optimistic that Canada would indeed vote in favour of the GCM. We look forward to engaging in similar conversation in the month leading up to the GCM adoption in December with other member states and actors on the ground.

– By Abby Hershberger, Program Assistant, MCC United Nations Office

The Global Compact – Part 1: A truly global document

In 2015, the United Nations Refugee Agency declared the mass exodus of Syrians from their homes into neighboring nations to be “the world’s single largest refugee crisis for almost a quarter of a century.” Around the same time, increasing numbers of small-scale farmers in the Global South were seeing their crops stunted by climate change and choosing to seek a living elsewhere.

Increasingly, countries of transit are becoming countries of destination and former destination countries are growing more hostile, tightening border security and toughening migration policies. Politicians are building successful political platforms upon xenophobia and unsourced claims that immigrants are making society more dangerous.

Although migration has always been a constant presence, the past few years have highlighted how multi-faceted and even contentious the movement of people can be.

In the New York Declaration, agreed upon in October 2016, United Nations (UN) Member States committed to start formulating a global response to the current realities of migration, as well as a flexible framework that could accommodate future shifts in migration flows while upholding the safety and dignity of those on the move.

GCM_CoFacs

On July 13, 2018, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM) was finalized. The drafting of the GCM was the first time that UN Member States have collectively negotiated and created a document that considers migration holistically—from driving factors, to inclusion and social cohesion, to conduct in the case of return.

Not surprisingly, drafting such an extensive document among nearly two hundred uniquely situated Member States, including Canada, was an extraordinarily complex task. To ensure a comprehensive and cross-cutting document, the drafting process was divided into three phases of work.

The first two phases, consultations and stocktaking, were held to discuss what general topics should be included in the text. After the co-facilitators released the Zero Draft of the GCM in February 2018, they commenced the intergovernmental negotiations phase.

Negotiations took place at the UN Headquarters in New York for one week a month from February to July 2018. For up to eight hours a day during these weeks, member states, non-governmental organizations, civil society coalitions, and migrant advocates debated the text of the GCM.

The co-facilitators and member states finalized the wording of the GCM at the end of the July negotiations, and will formally adopt the text this December at the Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in Marrakech, Morocco.

For a more detailed description of the GCM’s purpose and the GCM drafting process, read our blog post from last year or visit the MCC UN Office’s website. Stay tuned for Part 2 regarding Canada’s role and MCC advocacy asks relating to the Global Compact.

– By Abby Hershberger, Program Assistant, MCC United Nations Office

 

Moving together: Exploring our shared humanity

Today’s blog post is a re-post from MCC’s Latin America and Caribbean (LACA) blog, specifically a photo essay from MCC LACA’s Anna Vogt. In today’s political climate, it seems more important than ever to tell the stories of migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and people on the move in order to recognize and share our common humanity.

Moving Together

Come on a journey with us to explore our common humanity with migrants, their families, and helpers, across Latin America and the Caribbean. Throughout this photo essay, you will find links that lead back to our blog for more information about the stories and people, our neighbours, featured throughout.

Anna Vogt is the Regional Advocacy Support and Context Analyst for MCC LACA.