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.
Under Canada's Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) with the U.S. (in effect since December 2004), if a refugee claimant first arrives in the United States, the claimant would need to state their claim for asylum in the United States; they would not be able to claim refugee status in Canada. Canada and the U.S. have each declared the other country safe for refugees; this closes the door on most refugee claimants at the U.S.–Canada border. 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).
However the United States is not a safe country for all refugees. 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.
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 criminalization of being a refugee
- an increase in arbitrary enforcement in the context of anti-refugee and anti-Muslim government policies
Ask the Canadian 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 STCA 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
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 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. They cross the border irregularly in order to avoid being sent back to the United States under the STCA.
The Safe Third Country Agreement 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-immigrant, 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 STCA.)
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 (subject: Safe%20Third%20Country%20Agreement)
The Hon. Michelle Rempel
Conservative Party of Canada
E-mail: michelle.rempel [at] parl.gc.ca (subject: Safe%20Third%20Country%20Agreement)
New Democratic Party
E-mail: jenny.kwan [at] parl.gc.ca (subject: Safe%20Third%20Country%20Agreement)
Green Party of Canada
E-mail: elizabeth.may [at] parl.gc.ca (subject: Safe%20Third%20Country%20Agreement)
E-mail: mario.beaulieu [at] parl.gc.ca (subject: Safe%20Third%20Country%20Agreement)
Send copies of your letters and e-mails to:
For more information, contact: