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.
The United States is no longer a safe country for refugees. “Canadians have seen… how refugees are treated heartlessly in the U.S. under President Trump: children separated from their parents, long-term detention in horrific conditions, criminal prosecution of people just for crossing the border to seek safety, new policies closing the door on women fleeing gender-based violence,” said Claire Roque of the Canadian Council for Refugees (a United Church partner).
Under Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) with the United States (in effect since 2004), if a refugee claimant first arrives in the U.S., they need to state their claim for asylum there and would not be able to claim refugee status in Canada. Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act currently designates the U.S. as safe for refugees, effectively closing the door on most refugee claimants at the U.S./Canada border.
In April 2019, the Canadian government introduced changes to the refugee determination system (tucked inside of budget Bill C-97). If enacted, these changes will leave many asylum seekers at increased risk of being sent back to their home countries where they would likely face violence and persecution (for more information, see Background, below). A Senate committee is urging the government to delay these controversial changes in order to limit harm to vulnerable refugees.
"These changes risk causing serious harm to some of the most vulnerable refugee claimants, including women fleeing domestic violence and other gender-based harm, LGBT claimants, children, survivors of torture and others," stated Lobat Sadrehashemi, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.
Now is the time to ask our leaders, as well as candidates standing for election in fall 2019, what they will do to protect asylum seekers.
- Write to Hon. Ahmed D. Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, and/or your member of Parliament. Include your own thoughts, and ask that Canada
- withdraw from the STCA with the U.S.
- make provisions for vulnerable asylum seekers denied in the U.S. to make asylum claims in Canada
- increase the immigration levels for refugees and protected persons
- Engage with your candidates during the 2019 federal election to find out where they stand on refugee rights and the Safe Third Country Agreement. Explore these resources on how to engage candidates and local politicians.
- Share this Take Action on your social media networks. Use the hashtags #UCCan, #SafeThirdCountry, #Refugees, #CdnImm, #CdnPoli.
- Keep asylum-seekers in your prayers. You may wish to use the Prayer for Asylum-Seekers.
- 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
- Help United Church Mission & Service partner ACT Alliance respond to the needs of asylum seekers in Central America, Mexico, and at the U.S. border.
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).
Under the STCA, any refugees coming to Canada from the U.S., regardless of their country of origin, are not able to make a refugee claim at an official land border crossing, which is why many attempt crossing at unofficial points. Since the beginning of 2017, more than 35,000 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.
With the increasingly harsh policies and anti-migrant rhetoric of the current U.S. administration, the United States is no longer safe country for refugees. On July 16, 2019, the U.S. government implemented new policies aimed at zeroing out refugees by disqualify all asylum-seekers who travelled through another country on their way to the U.S. from making a claim for asylum. Trump’s measures have led to
- more refugee claimants in detention (claimants in detention have much lower chances of securing refugee protection)
- the expansion of “expedited removal” (more people are subject to summary proceedings that often unfairly deny access to the refugee protection system)
- the unjustified criminalization of refugees
- an increase in arbitrary enforcement in the context of anti-refugee and anti-Muslim government policies
In Canada, Bill C-97 includes amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that would bar asylum seekers from refugee protection in Canada if they had previously made a claim for refugee protection in a “safe” country, notably in the United States. Implementation would deny refugee claimants access to Canada’s refugee determination system, and would apply even to cases where those seeking asylum had not been given the opportunity to a hearing in the other country. Claimants deemed ineligible under these new laws might only have access to the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) process. However, the Senate committee noted that claims brought to PRRA would not undergo as thorough a review as an Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada hearing.
In 2017, the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, and the Canadian Council of Churches launched a legal challenge of the designation of the U.S. as a safe third country. “The U.S. 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 U.S., knowing as we do that they may face serious violations of their basic rights.” The challenge stems from Executive Orders and other measures taken by President Trump taken since assuming office.
For further information on this issue, refer to
- a recording of the United Church webinar Building Inclusive Communities
- Canadian Council of Refugees’ information on the Safe Third Country Agreement and FAQs
- two blog posts: An Open Heart at the Border and Seeing the Face of God in Refugees
- the United Church’s refugee sponsorship page
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
New Democratic Party
E-mail: jenny.kwan [at] parl.gc.ca
Green Party of Canada
E-mail: elizabeth.may [at] parl.gc.ca
E-mail: mario.beaulieu [at] parl.gc.ca
Send copies of your letters and e-mails to:
For more information, contact: