I see the face of God in refugees’ faces… No one chooses to be a refugee. But some of us can choose to make the land a little safer… for us all. The key is to embrace refugees… the harbingers of the changes needed in our world.
Heather MacDonald

Update, July 2017: The Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, and the Canadian Council of Churches  have announced that they are launching a legal challenge of the designation of the United States as a safe third country for refugees. Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, refugees who present themselves at a Canada-US border post seeking to make a refugee claim in Canada are, with limited exceptions, denied access to the Canadian refugee system and immediately returned to the United States. “The US was never safe for all refugees, and is now even less safe,” said Loly Rico, President of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “It is wrong, morally and legally, to send claimants back to the US, knowing as we do that they may face serious violations of their basic rights.”

Since the beginning of 2017, more than 100 refugees have walked into Canada from the United States, risking their lives to journey in winter weather. These refugees seek asylum in response to changes the new U.S. administration made regarding the resettlement of refugees and immigration enforcement measures. They cross the border irregularly in order to avoid being sent back to the United States under the Safe Third Country Agreement.

The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States means that refugee claimants must generally seek protection in the first of the two countries that they reach—essentially closing Canada’s door to refugee claims made at the U.S. border. However, many asylum-seekers in the U.S. are journeying to Canada because the recent anti-refugee and anti-Muslim measures in the United States have made them feel unsafe. (For more information, see the Canadian Council of Refugees’ FAQs about the Safe Third Country Agreement.)

Ask the federal government to take positive, immediate steps to respond to this situation.

Take Action

  1. Write to Hon. Ahmed D. Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, and/your member of Parliament. Include your own thoughts, and ask that Canada
    • withdraw from the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States
    • increase Canada’s 2017 refugee settlement targets in light of the decrease in the United States
    You can find your MP’s e-mail or postal address by entering your postal code here.
  2. Share this Take Action on your social media networks. Use the hashtags #UCCan, #SafeThirdCountry, #Refugees, #CdnImm, #CdnPoli.
  3. Keep asylum-seekers in your prayers. You may wish to use the Prayer for Asylum-Seekers.
  4. Reach out to those in your community responding to the immediate needs of asylum-seekers arriving in Canada, offering to help as you are able. Good places to start might be
    • United Church Conference offices
    • shelters and food banks
    • community and outreach ministries
    • local congregations and community groups that are sponsoring refugees

Background

In 2015 and 2016, United Church people welcomed thousands of refugees into their communities. As people of faith, the church continues to ask and respond in this time and place to Jesus’ question: “And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?” (Matthew 25:38).

Since taking office in early 2017, President Trump has signed a series of Executive Orders that

  • temporarily halt all resettlement of refugees in the United States
  • halve the number of refugees to be resettled in 2017
  • discriminate against refugees of Muslim faith or background
  • introduce new arbitrary immigration enforcement measures

Many refugees seeking asylum in the United States feel that their refugee claim will not be given fair consideration in this current climate. Refugees from one of the seven countries targeted by the so-called travel bans are worried that they will not be able to reunite with family members, even if they are accepted as refugees in the United States.

When the Safe Third Country Agreement was put in place in 2004, The United Church of Canada, United Church partner KAIROS Canada, the Canadian Council of Churches, and many other faith and civil society groups protested it strongly. They noted that such an agreement violates Canada’s international commitments under the UN Convention on Refugees, and warned of its consequences for vulnerable people.

For more background on this issue, refer to:

Send your letters and e-mails to:

The Hon. Ahmed D. Hussen
Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
E-mail: ahmed.hussen [at] parl.gc.ca

The Hon. Michelle Rempel
Conservative Party of Canada
E-mail: michelle.rempel [at] parl.gc.ca

Jenny Kwan
New Democratic Party
E-mail: jenny.kwan [at] parl.gc.ca

Elizabeth May
Green Party of Canada
E-mail: elizabeth.may [at] parl.gc.ca

Mario Beaulieu
Bloc Québécois
E-mail: mario.beaulieu [at] parl.gc.ca

Send copies of your letters and emails to:

Christie NeufeldtProgram Coordinator, Public Witness416-231-7680 ext. 4078
1-800-268-3781 ext. 4078
cneufeldt [at] united-church.ca

For more information contact:

Khwaka KukuboRefugee Program Advisor416-231-7680 ext. 4068
1-800-268-3781 ext. 4068
kkukubo [at] united-church.ca