By Iris Jungmin Seo, Blog writer

Responding to the reluctant political climate of the global refugee crisis and President Trump’s travel ban, Prime Minister Trudeau has expressed Canada’s intolerance to discrimination and embracement of refugees with the controversial twitter hashtag #WelcomeToCanada in 2017. Two years later in 2019, Canada is currently facing a different kind of a “refugee crisis”; a crisis for the refugees where even the most basic human rights, such as the right to housing and employment, are not guaranteed. This leads to the problem of the disparity between how refugees are portrayed in the media through the liberal political agenda versus the lived-experiences of refugees.

The Geneva Convention of 1951 defines a refugee as someone who is/has been forced to flee his or her country due to fear of persecution, war or violence for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Today, the international community is facing a global refugee crisis, as the displacement of people has reached its highest level in human history at 68.3 million displaced individuals. According to the UN Refugee Agency, 66% of all refugees come from just 5 countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. 53% of all refugees around the world are children under the age of 18. Today, over 80% of refugees are hosted in developing nations, such as Turkey, Pakistan, and Lebanon, where economic opportunities are vastly limited. 

Despite the lack of asylum initiatives from advanced countries, Canada has stepped up under Prime Minister Trudeau’s government to allocate an additional $72 million to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada to improve the refugee determination system in 2018. Simultaneously, the annual refugee intake has increased to 56,601 refugees as of June 30th, 2018. The rapid increase of refugee intake in Canada leads to a critical question: What happens next to these refugees who found asylum in Canada? 

Currently, a disparity exists between the reality of how refugees live and how the refugees are portrayed in the media. Toronto Mayor John Tory has announced in April 2018 that Toronto requires urgent assistance from all levels of government to deal with an upsurge of refugees who account for 40% of the people in the city’s homeless shelters. Similarly, a recent study in Ottawa has found that 25% of the city’s homeless population are refugees and newcomers. Unfortunately, the homelessness and poverty of refugees is an urgent social issue that does not get discussed enough in the media. I came here as a sponsored refugee, not by the government but by a private sponsor. I came with my dad and my brother. We were sponsored by a Church group in Vancouver. The whole process took 6-7 years before we could come.

A settlement counsellor from the Arab Community Centre of Toronto has commented that finding permanent housing for refugees is difficult due to “lack of credit history, skeptical landlords who are hesitant to take on newcomers, an inability to pay upfront costs and difficulty navigating complicated paperwork in a second language.”

As much as providing an asylum for the refugees is a grand commitment for a nation, further work towards efficient refugee selection process, long-term housing, and poverty reduction strategies are required for the wellbeing of everyone in Canada. Moreover, even though Canada is one of the most progressive countries that promotes human rights, it would be more beneficial to take some time to examine the lived-experiences of the refugees and reevaluate the current resources available so we can decrease the disparities between the idealistic lives of refugees portrayed in the liberal political agenda and the media versus the grim reality.

To read more about STAND Canada’s policy recommendations, click here!

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