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.
Update, February 2018: More than 400,000 migrants live and work in the United States under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) scheme. In January 2018, the U.S. government announced an end to the TPS of some 260,000 Salvadorans, following the November 2017 announcement to end the TPS of 60,000 Haitians. They all now face deportation if they fail to leave the United States by September and July 2019, respectively. Those from Sudan and Nicaragua have also had their status terminated, and within the next year, South Sudan, Honduras, Syria, Nepal, Somalia, and Yemen may also see their TPS expire.
But due to the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), they will also not be able to claim refugee status in Canada. The STCA establishes the U.S. as a "safe country." This means that 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 are attempting to cross at unofficial points as in the photo, above.)
Luckily, pressure is mounting against the STCA. In summer of 2017 The Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, and the Canadian Council of Churches announced that they were launching 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.”
Ask the federal government to take positive, immediate steps to respond to this situation.
- 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 the immigration levels for refugees and protected persons
- 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
- United Church Conference offices
- shelters and food banks
- community and outreach ministries
- local congregations and community groups that are sponsoring refugees
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 the beginning of 2017, more than 20,000 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. 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.)
Since taking office, President Trump has signed several Executive Orders that affect those seeking refugee protection in the U.S. In addition to the Executive Order instituting the “travel ban,” two other Executive Orders introduced new immigration enforcement measures.
Among the key concerns are:
- Increased use of detention (people in detention have much lower chances of securing refugee protection)
- Expanded “expedited removal” (more people will be subject to summary proceedings that often unfairly deny access to the refugee protection system)
- Criminalization of refugees
- Increased arbitrary enforcement in the context of anti-refugee and anti-Muslim government policies
The Safe Third Country Agreement is based on the premise that the U.S. is safe for refugees. When Canada sends refugee claimants back to the U.S. under the STCA, we are relying on the U.S. to respect their fundamental rights. If the U.S. fails to do so and sends them back to face persecution, Canada is also responsible for violating their rights. For this reason, Canada must not return refugee claimants to the U.S. unless we are absolutely sure that the U.S. will not send them back to persecution. It is impossible to have that confidence in the current context.
For more background 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:
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: