Evidence of meeting #127 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was countries.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Bibe Kalalu  President, Angels Refugee Support Group Association
1  As an Individual
Salma Zahid  Scarborough Centre, Lib.
Anna Vogt  Director, Ottawa Office, Mennonite Central Committee Canada
John Clayton  Director of Programs and Projects, Samaritan's Purse Canada
Rebekah Sears  Policy Analyst, Mennonite Central Committee Canada
Ramez Ayoub  Thérèse-De Blainville, Lib.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you.

Mr. Maguire.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I thank you both for your time as witnesses this evening, in your area of the world, or this afternoon, here in Canada.

Witness 1, you indicated that you had moved. You left your home country to come to Uganda.

When was that? How long ago was that?

4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

Witness 1

That was over eight years ago. I have lived here since August 2010.

4:20 p.m.

President, Angels Refugee Support Group Association

Bibe Kalalu

I have lived here since March 2007.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Thank you.

I was one of the committee members who were in Tanzania and Uganda. I met with your organizations last summer, in June, and I heard your desperation with your situation, similar to that of many other refugees from other countries around Uganda as well.

When you speak of the opportunity or the right to come to other areas of the world or to seek better safety where you are, what is your priority? Is it to remove yourselves from those areas, or, in the larger scheme of things, how can Canada help raise the issue of making it safer for you, not only in your home country but in Uganda where you are?

4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

Witness 1

On behalf of our homeland, thank you very much.

The secretary general of the International Organization of La Francophonie, or OIF, comes from our country. This will be discussed and perhaps people will think of LGBT people. It is not our fault for being what we are; it is how we were created.

I was caught in the U.S. more than four years ago. I was a victim of the current U.S. policy. For over four years, I endured other threats. There was the incident at Club Venom, in 2016. I was affected by that, and that is why I had the courage to keep fighting. I created the Rainbow Heritage Network because of the injustice suffered by refugees in Uganda.

That was more than four years ago. I might go to the U.S. soon, or not. I do not know what will happen there.

I don't know what the future is holding,

because LGBT persons are still under threat.

4:25 p.m.

President, Angels Refugee Support Group Association

Bibe Kalalu

I would also like to say something.

We would like to say that the priorities for your country should be as follows.

First, you have to see how you can prioritize the resettlement of LGBT persons, because we are suffering here.

Second, you need to invest in initiatives to protect the health and safety of LGBT refugees.

Third, you have to try to talk to the Ugandan government to reduce the suffering of LGBT persons, to help solve problems. They are also threatened, not only in Uganda, but also in Congo, Nigeria and all African countries. These could be your priorities.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Thank you.

I have another question in regard to that.

I made notes that you indicated that in the process you go through when you're getting your orientation to leave, one of things you have to do to start the refugee process is that you have to go to police and you have to be examined. If your orientation is discovered, then you're blocked. The police are not the most favourable to be the ones to go to in your situation.

Is there a situation that could come about whereby...? The UNHCR right now has to rely on the police documents. How could we change that?

4:25 p.m.

As an Individual

Witness 1

We have very limited resources. We have only our voices to discourage this. We are truly limited. Once again, we are the victims of our homeland's policy. Since Rwanda is a politically stable country, we do not dare claim a political reason. We do not dare say we are LGBT because we could be arrested immediately.

If there were other avenues than going to the police, we would certainly use them. We feel very threatened when we go to the police. We are persecuted and we are afraid of being tortured by the police.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Could I just interrupt you for one moment?

Pardon me, it's due to time.

Could another group, other than the UNHCR, get refugees out of Uganda more effectively? What I'm saying is, right now we rely on what the UNHCR provides us. Are there better ways or other avenues that we should be looking at to help you in that regard?

4:25 p.m.

As an Individual

Witness 1

Thank you very much for the question.

In the past, there was HIAS, including HIAS Uganda, HIAS U.S. and HIAS Kenya, but that organization has unfortunately closed its doors. That affected LGBT persons because it helped many of those people. Some of them are in Canada right now and some are in the U.S.

There is also the Refugee Law Project, which deals with issues affecting LGBT persons, but this agency does not offer resettlement assistance. Small organizations such as ours work on the cases of people like us, LGBT refugees.

4:30 p.m.

President, Angels Refugee Support Group Association

Bibe Kalalu

I would like to add something. Once the police identify a person as LGBT, that person loses any hope because the police cannot accept such people under Ugandan law.

It would be better to register LGBT persons through other agencies, such as the Refugee Law Project, which can seek asylum on their behalf. That could be a way of registering those persons here in Uganda

Our organization does not dare stand up to the government. It is very difficult. Larger organizations such as the HCR or the Refugee Law Project can perhaps do that, so you could contact them and ask them how to go about it.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

I'm afraid I need you to end there. The opposition owes the government party about 10 minutes, just to let you know. We'll take it out sometime later. I didn't want to cut off the witnesses today because I thought the questions and the answers were very good.

4:30 p.m.

Salma Zahid Scarborough Centre, Lib.

Thank you, Chair.

I would like to thank both the witnesses for their courage and for coming out today and providing their important testimony.

Witness 1, you mentioned briefly in your comments the Scandinavian countries. Do these countries have any programs for LGBT refugee resettlement that we can learn from?

4:30 p.m.

As an Individual

Witness 1

Thank you very much.

I mentioned Scandinavian countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Norway because, compared to other countries, they accept a large number of LGBT refugees. I am not referring to France, the United Kingdom, Switzerland or other countries. Canada and the United States did accept LGBT refugees from countries where HIAS was active, but its door are closed right now. We don't know what happened to them because access to information is limited and it would take in-depth investigations, but we have seen the generosity of these countries.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

I'm sorry, we have finished this part of the meeting. Thank you for being with us and for your testimony.

It's been very helpful to us and we will keep you in our thoughts, both as we do our report but also ongoing as we push our government and the people of our world to have a better approach to help you with safety and everything you need. Thank you very much.

We're going to take one minute to suspend while we change the witnesses. Thank you.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

We're going to get started. We do have one witness coming by video conference, but since we have witnesses here we should begin with them.

Where my mind is, just so you know where the chair is at this moment, is that I'm trying to figure out whether or not we could revoke tax charitable status for faith organizations that preach hate. That's just where my mind is at this very moment. I was just thinking about our last witnesses and thinking, “How do we allow faith communities to preach hate and still give them tax charitable status?” That's just where my mind is.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

We have a lot that could fall into that category.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

But not the Mennonites. We're going to start with two people from MCC, the Mennonite Central Committee Canada, Rebekah Sears and Anna Vogt.

We're going to begin with you and then we'll go to the video conference next.

October 23rd, 2018 / 4:35 p.m.

Anna Vogt Director, Ottawa Office, Mennonite Central Committee Canada

Thank you so much for the invitation.

Mennonite Central Committee, or MCC, is a ministry of Anabaptist churches responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice. While our work began in 1920 assisting refugees fleeing the former Soviet Union, today MCC works worldwide. Last year alone, we supported over 300,000 people on the move.

MCC welcomes this opportunity to share our experiences and recommendations around global forced migration.

Committee members may be more familiar with our work on refugee resettlement as MCC helped to resettle one-third of Canada's blended visa office-referred refugees in 2017. Resettlement work in Canada and Canada's role as a leader in encouraging resettlement globally is of vital importance.

MCC consistently hears from our partners internationally, however, that addressing the root causes of forced migration must be part of any solution.

While MCC works on the theme of migration worldwide, our most coordinated regional work currently take place in Latin America, where I recently worked. I will share several migration push factors, the response of our partner organizations, and then several recommendations to the Canadian government, especially focusing on our partners in central America, Mexico and Colombia who keep us informed of migration trends as they unfold.

We are hearing reports that migration in the region is forced by hostile environments that are seedbeds for violence. These include severe socio-economic inequality, illicit economies coupled with corruption and weak institutions, and rising levels of militarization.

Latin America is the most unequal region in the world. More than half of the region's productive land is held by the top 1% of the largest farms. This is coupled with a growing economic dependence on extractivism, including agro-industries, mineral resources and hydrocarbons. This has led to a decrease in local food production and access to safe water, which are factors that encourage migration, especially when combined with threats of violence over control of land or development.

While Colombia holds the record for one of the highest numbers of IDPs in the world, at seven million, internal displacement is increasing in central America and in Mexico.

This inequality destabilizes the region by contributing to the growth of the illegal economies. Even when organized crime is not a direct driver of violence, it may indirectly impact violence by corrupting state institutions and reducing access to security and justice mechanisms along with health and education. High unemployment and exclusion drive youth gang membership, leading to increased urban violence. In turn, migration itself fuels instability. In border regions, the illegal economy around migration has become more profitable than drug trafficking.

Increased militarization to combat organized crime combined with state institutions unresponsive to human rights violations exacerbate violence. Increased security policies have led to extrajudicial killings and a crackdown on non-violent protest.

Latin America is currently the most dangerous place in the world to be a human rights or an environmental defender. Militarized borders and routes, especially around Mexico's borders, contribute to increasing migrant deaths and disappearances as migrants and asylum seekers take lesser-known routes to avoid official detection and end up in the hands of cartels or in extreme desert conditions.

Foreign development and economic interventions may inadvertently cause harm in these complex scenarios. Throughout the region, however, MCC works with local partner organizations that seek to address this complexity.

I will share only a small sampling of this diverse and creative work.

For example, in Colombia, our partner Sembrandopaz accompanies over 40 displaced and returned farming communities in a reconciliation and human rights project. They specifically work to bring youth from divided communities together through sport for leadership development and non-violent conflict resolution. In a parallel process, community leaders have formed a reparation and advocacy movement to collectively work to stay on their lands and develop alternative economic projects.

Anti-corruption work in Honduras led by the Association for a More Just Society uses evidence-based trackers to monitor government contracts and spending in education and health. Through their work, they have seen an increase in the number of days children spend in the classroom.

Voces Mesoamericanas in southern Mexico is part of a network of organizations—including in central America—that monitors border violence. This network also documents internal displacement and can provide early warning signs of areas where conflict may be likely to break out, and where migration flows may increase.

In response to these contextual dynamics and migration push factors, MCC offers the following recommendations to the Canadian government, not only for Latin America but for all areas where forced migration is taking place globally. First, increase investments in conflict prevention; second, use a “do no harm” lens; third, have partnerships with diverse actors; and fourth, continue leadership in global agreements.

We encourage increased investment in conflict prevention initiatives, especially local peace-building and mediation initiatives across different sectors and faiths. When mapping drivers of conflict, it is crucial to identify the strengths and capacities that already exist at a local level and can be leveraged to build sustainable peace.

We also encourage the government to integrate a conflict sensitivity lens—i.e., do no harm—across all programming to ensure that actions do not inadvertently exacerbate conflict dynamics or socio-economic inequalities. Canada should focus on resourcing non-military means of addressing insecurity around the globe. MCC also encourages Canada to increase our diplomatic efforts around conflict prevention and strengthen non-violent alternatives to the use of force.

We also encourage Canada to engage in partnerships with diverse actors, with a particular focus on supporting grassroots partners, enhancing local solidarity networks and promoting mechanisms for co-operation between actors on different levels, especially in situations of protracted internal displacement. We encourage more opportunities for funding, recognizing the important role that local organizations play in meeting the needs of IDPs.

MCC also encourages greater co-operation and work between the IRCC and GAC to build both departments' capacities for responding creatively to the full array of complex international issues that face our world today around forced migration. We encourage Canada to continue to show leadership on the implementation of the global compact on migration and the global compact on refugees, bringing in a root causes and prevention lens to these global agreements, along with a continued focus on resettlement globally.

There will be more information about all of these different topics in the written submission that is in translation currently.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you very much.

We're going to turn to Mr. Clayton from Samaritan's Purse Canada in Calgary.

Welcome.

4:45 p.m.

John Clayton Director of Programs and Projects, Samaritan's Purse Canada

Good afternoon. It's great to be connected with you, Mr. Chairman and honourable members. I want to thank the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration for the opportunity to speak concerning issues surrounding forced migration, as we understood that was the topic to be dealt with.

This is my second time presenting to this committee. I want to thank you and the Government of Canada for action taken in assisting the Yazidi people we previously talked about.

I'm a representative of Samaritan's Purse Canada. We are a registered charity in Calgary. We are part of an international Christian organization that is on the front lines of the worst tragedies unfolding around the world. Almost all of these include aspects of forced migration.

I would like to make four points. First, Canadian policy needs to focus on root causes, as we've already heard. This will minimize forced migration and enable the safe return of people.

Second, resettlement must be done with impartiality. That needs to be a guide.

Third, the UNHCR referral process requires Canada's vigilance to ensure accountability.

Fourth, safe, orderly and regular immigration policies may be unpopular, but the alternative is also inhumane.

In reading the news release concerning this committee's current study, I couldn't help but notice the parallels of this meeting's agenda topics and the upcoming December UN meetings when the global compact on migration will no doubt be ratified. The global compact is a non-binding agreement; however, it shapes the political will and ambition of the international community. From it, Canada will be faced with policy decisions aligning with the global compact and then creating Canada-specific policies.

The magnitude of our world's current situation, with untold tens of millions of people forcibly displaced, is staggering. We observe that this is largely man-made, due to poor or corrupt governance, and largely avoidable at the start. The global compact very correctly identifies addressing the root causes of refugee movements as a priority for all nations of the world.

For Canada, as I understand it, dealing with these root causes is the domain of foreign policy. Canada needs policy that focuses Canadian economic aid and development to reduce migration push factors. This will enable the safe and dignified return of displaced people to their countries of origin, which is the most desirable option.

I have witnessed the success of these root-cause interventions and efforts. I spent the first years of my career with Samaritan's Purse in Croatia and Bosnia. I witnessed the success of the Dayton peace agreement in 1995, and while it was not perfect, I saw the return of the refugees and the displaced—at least to their own respective countries, if not to their homes.

Secondly, since the mid-1990s Samaritan's Purse has been very involved in relief efforts in South Sudan. The comprehensive peace agreement in 2005 that was preceded by the Machakos Protocol in 2003 was largely facilitated by a Canadian foreign policy initiative and funding. This enabled millions to return to their homes.

I trust that the global compact and the work of this committee will help clarify and focus Canada's foreign policy priorities towards dealing with root causes. The sad reality is that the global compact and policy can't resolve all of these causes, and forced migration will continue. Some problems are intractable and leave millions in dire situations. I was particularly impressed with comments made by the preceding witness, Anna, because they tie into my story.

In 1920 my Mennonite grandparents fled persecution in the Soviet Union and came to a homestead on the Canadian Prairies. Ukraine recently opened up their KGB archives, revealing the fate of those who did not flee. They were rounded up for show trials and executed or exiled to the gulag.

I have great personal sympathy for the impossible and dire situations of this world. I believe that when you do examine the situations that exist, priorities emerge. Not all forced migrants are in equally dangerous or impossible situations, and the humanitarian principle of impartiality directs that we prioritize those in most need of resettlement without discrimination. This humanitarian principle of impartiality must inform Canada's policies and priorities.

Canada acted properly in dealing with the Yazidi people, and I'm particularly proud of this. I believe the Yazidis continue to be a leading example of forced migration and one of the world's most impossible of situations. They are the victims in a UN-declared genocide. They were a vilified minority group displaced from their homeland with little chance of future security or freedom. Canada demonstrated impartiality when Yazidis were brought here. I believe we ought to open our doors to more of them.

The Rohingya in Myanmar are another group of people who deserve priority consideration.

I also observed this committee examining the UNHCR's determination and referral processes and Canada's engagement in these processes. The UNHCR is committed to very lofty humanitarian principles; however, it is evident that some dominant cultural groups in the UNHCR can demonstrate systemic racism, intolerance or bias against minority groups in their midst.

I believe it was wise for Canada to have sent representatives to northern Iraq to assist with Yazidi immigration to ensure impartiality. Vigilance for UNHCR bias or prejudice and the option of intervening for minority groups that are not being dealt with impartially also ought to be part of Canadian policy. Transparency must be welcomed and prioritized in this regard.

For decades Canada and the international community have used three words, “safe”, “orderly” and “regular”, to help define migration and immigration policy. Deviation from these guiding principles has consequences. It enables human trafficking and criminality. It encourages life-endangering risk-taking. It allows for possible compromises of safety and security inside Canada, and it also inadvertently tells new arrivals that Canadian rule of law is not important when legitimate channels and due process are not followed. Lastly, these deviations reduce the co-ordination efficacy of Canadian refugee resettlement support services. I think these are outcomes that really are inhumane.

The committee is meeting to discuss the future of Canadian policy. The global compact to the UN system is based on principled, intentional humanitarian action; however, our culture is increasingly seduced by populism, virtuous posturing and the need to be seen zealous in helping, regardless of the implications and impact on Canadian citizens and processes. This needs to be resisted. Canada's policies on forced migration need to remain grounded in sound principle.

Thank you very much for this opportunity.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you very much.

Mr. Tabbara.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all the witnesses for being here.

I've met many people. MCC and Rebekah Sears, I remember quite well the many occasions that we spoke.

Anna, you mentioned the recommendations, and you mentioned the increased investment in conflict prevention—the same with our witness in the video conference—and that the root causes are largely conflict and individuals who are causing this chaos.

The report that I have here from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre shows much of what you've mentioned about the conflicts. It shows that the displacement for 2018, from January to June, came from these top five countries: Ethiopia, Syria, DRC, Nigeria and Somalia. The numbers are, in that same order, 1.4 million, 1.2 million, 946,000, 400,000 and 300,000 roughly. That's the displacement within that period of individuals coming from those countries.

What I also want to mention and get into is that we're seeing a lot of displacement due to climate change. I'm going to read you a little bit of where the disasters have come from during January to June 2018, where many of the displacements have come from. In India there were monsoon floods and 373,000 were displaced. In Somalia there have been floods, and roughly 300,000 people were displaced. In Kenya there are similar numbers, 300,000, and in the Philippines not too long ago we saw 150,000, and there are more that I can read off here.

We can do a lot with diplomacy. We can try to put in more funding to prevent measures so that we don't see these conflicts arise in the first few countries that I mentioned. What are some of the things we need to do to help those climate refugees? What would you suggest for the government to take action on so that we can prevent these numbers from continuously rising?

4:50 p.m.

Director, Ottawa Office, Mennonite Central Committee Canada

Anna Vogt

If I can just jump on this, a lot of times when we think about climate change-caused refugees, there are a number of factors that also lead up to their forced migration. Often, especially as we're seeing in central America, climate change is the last factor that serves to push people into migrating.

There has to be a holistic approach to why people are fleeing, understanding that climate change is also exacerbating conflicts, especially around access to natural resources. As we commit to working against global climate change, I think we still need to look at conflict prevention as well. For example, for Honduran farmers, instead of being able to grow two corn crops a year, this year they were barely able to grow one because of climate change-caused drought within their areas. These are also people who are living in very precarious situations, where they are already fearing displacement or being forced from their land, and then climate change is an additional factor that then leads them to migrate.

Again, how do we integrate that lens of understanding this holistic cause of migration while also understanding the importance of climate change in these situations?