Greens Mark UN World Refugee Day

It should not come as a surprise that the focus for this year’s UN World Refugee Day, established in 2000 to raise awareness about the plight of refugees, is on the impact of war on families. The main message is: “One family torn by war is too many.” The UN is asking those of us who are safe and secure to imagine what it must be like to have your home and family ripped apart by violence, to be separated from your children, to have your life’s work destroyed.

This is especially relevant and heartbreaking given the growing number of Syrian refugees after two years of civil war. According to UNICEF Canada, more than seven million people have been affected – more than half, four million, are children. Almost two million refugees are now existing under desperate conditions in neighbouring countries. Again, half of these are children.

Refugees rarely leave their homes voluntarily. They do so to escape intolerable, often dangerous lives in the hope of building something better. That is why the actions of the Harper Conservatives in recent years have been so inappropriate, running counter to Canada’s humane, award-winning refugee policies in the past.

Bill C-31, passed a year ago, deemed that men, women, and children over 16 who arrive in Canada in an “irregular” way could face up to one year in detention. Not long after that, all refugees were denied basic healthcare – from prenatal care to cancer screening – unless their illness posed a threat to society. After much opposition, the Conservatives retreated somewhat and certain refugees regained health coverage, but too many are still facing illness or injury without it.

The Green Party values the multicultural fabric of Canada. New Canadians have historically brought needed skills and energy to our society. We must ensure that we make their arrival here as humane, efficient, and supportive as possible. At the same time, Greens believe there is an immediate need for a national discussion on including the category of “environmental refugee” to the list of those qualifying for such status. As the impacts of climate change become increasingly evident, Canada needs to accept its share of the world’s victims.