Mr. Speaker, I move that sixth report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, presented on Monday, October 2, 2006, be concurred in.
I want to read the report, which consists of a motion passed at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. On Thursday, September 28, and pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee adopted the following motion regarding the remaining 140 stateless Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines. The motion reads:
WHEREAS, until recently, 2,000 forgotten Vietnamese refugees remained stateless in the Philippines for over a decade and half without being given any status;
WHEREAS, this group of Vietnamese refugees represents the last group of “boat people” from Vietnam, stranded in limbo since 1989;
WHEREAS, Australia, the United Kingdom, Norway and the United States have recognized these people as refugees and resettled the majority of them;
WHEREAS, Canada agreed to take up to 200 of these Vietnamese refugees;
WHEREAS, only 23 individuals from eight families qualified to come to Canada under the programme announced by the previous government;
WHEREAS, 140 individuals are left behind without a durable solution after 17 years of displacement and statelessness;
WHEREAS, Canada had a remarkable record for the resettlement of Vietnamese “boat people”;
WHEREAS, Vietnamese refugees who came to Canada as part of that important refugee movement have integrated well into Canada society and, as Canadian citizens, make important contributions to our communities;
WHEREAS, many Canadians including members of the Vietnamese Community in Canada are willing and able to be private sponsors for these 140 individuals;
WHEREAS, Canada accepts some 30,000 refugees annually and already has in place humanitarian and compassionate programs that would allow the resettlement of these individuals;
WHEREAS, the Vietnamese refugees remaining in the Philippines meet the criteria set under the ‘Country of Asylum’ class of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act which requires that the applicant:
Be outside his/her country of citizenship;
Has been affected by civil war or armed conflict;
or Has suffered violations of human rights;
Has no possibility, within a reasonable period of time, of having a durable solution; and
Be privately sponsored.
WHEREAS, under Section 25(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration also has the power to grant permanent residence in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds;
THEREFORE, The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration requests the following:
1. The Honourable Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to allow the urgent resettlement in Canada of the remaining 140 Vietnamese refugees stranded in the Philippines on humanitarian and compassionate grounds under the ‘Country of Asylum’ class or using Section 25(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act or via some other mechanism;
2. During this process, these individuals be required to undergo normal procedures like all other refugees admitted into Canada;
3. The Honourable Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to respond, in writing, to members of this Committee, within a reasonable period of time, the overall result of Canada’s efforts in providing a durable solution to this last group of ”boat people” from Vietnam
That is the full text of the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration regarding the situation of stateless Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines.
The committee looked into this very carefully over the course of two parliaments, both in the previous 38th Parliament and in this the 39th Parliament.
The situation of Vietnamese refugees stranded in the Philippines was first brought to the attention of the standing committee during the 38th Parliament. At that time, representatives of the Vietnamese Canadian community and Vietnamese communities in other countries, appeared before the committee to ask us to advocate for Canada's assistance to these people.
Representatives of these committees appeared before the standing committee again in this Parliament on May 31, 2006. When they first appeared, approximately 2,000 Vietnamese refugees were in the Philippines, people who had fled Vietnam at the end of the war. Many of these people had left Vietnam in exactly the same circumstances as Vietnamese boat people refugees, many of whom are resettled in Canada.
Unfortunately for these 2,000 people, they missed the provisions of the United Nations comprehensive plan of action, the United Nations sponsored resettlement program that saw over 500,000 Vietnamese refugees settled in 74 countries around the world. It was under the auspices of this program that Canada resettled 145,000 Vietnamese boat people refugees in this country, almost 25% of the total. These 2,000 people missed that opportunity. They remained in the Philippines without hope of returning to Vietnam and with no hope of gaining status in the Philippines.
The standing committee heard details of their situation. They had and have no legal status in the Philippines. They could not work legally in the Philippines. They had no rights to education. Even if they married a Filipino citizen, their situation did not change, and their children, even if one of the parents were Filipino, also remained stateless.
Thanks to the efforts of the Vietnamese communities in Australia, the United States, Norway and Canada, and the actions of those governments, most of the 2,000 people have now been resettled. However, in May the standing committee heard that approximately 140 stateless Vietnamese remained in the Philippines with no hope of a durable solution to their situation.
It should be noted that the previous Liberal government instituted a program to allow some of these people to come to Canada. It was a limited program. To be eligible, one had to have a close relative in Canada who was willing and financially able to sponsor the individual. At first it was hoped that upward of 500 people might be able to take advantage of this program. Sadly, only 23 people from eight families ultimately arrived here. This proved to be a completely inadequate response to the situation.
There had been some concern among Filipino lawmakers to address this situation of the stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines. A change in Filipino law is required to address their situation. However, in the 17 years that they have been in the Philippines, no legal measure has had a full hearing, and none is likely in the near future. In fact, the Philippines Bureau of Immigration has made a very clear statement on the situation of the stateless Vietnamese. It states:
The consistent policy of the Philippine Government is to repatriate said RVNs (the returning Vietnamese) to Vietnam, or resettle them to a third country willing to accept them. The Philippines has never been, and is not, a resettlement country. It also has no intention of socially integrating persons whose applications for asylum/refugee status it denied in the first place.
The fact that a legal solution is unlikely to be found in the Philippines has been confirmed by a member of the House of Representatives of the Republic of the Philippines, Ms. Loretta Ann Rosales, who wrote to the parliamentary secretary to the minister of immigration and multicultural affairs of Australia, Mr. Andrew Robb, on September 10, 2006. I would like to read from that letter:
Dear Hon. Robb,
May I respectfully endorse the submission of the Vietnamese Community in Australia dated March 2006 concerning the remaining stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines that I understand has been transmitted to your office. I consider resettlement to a third country, as proposed by the submission, to be a vital element of a humane and durable solution for approximately 145 stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines.
You may be aware that two proposed measures were filed before the Justice Committee of the Philippines House of Representatives during the 12th Congress, House Bills Nos. 1272 and 5371.
Both bills sought the granting of permanent residency to the remaining stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines. Similarly, a bill was introduced by Congressman Roilo Golez in 1998 concerning permanent residency for the stateless Vietnamese.
As you would no doubt appreciate, enactment of a law is not a simple process. Bills, such as the permanent residency bills, take on an average of nine years to pass through the various readings and procedures and then finally take effect as law in the Philippines. The bills granting permanent residency for the stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines were, sad to say, not passed into law.
For those Vietnamese who have been stateless for 17 years, this is a significant period of time to wait for a solution to their problem—a solution which may not be realized in the soonest possible time.
Therefore, Australia and other resettlement countries have a continuing role to play in contributing to a durable solution and a future for these people. I understand that Australia was the first to recognize the humanitarian needs of this stateless group by resettling 256 people under the Special Humanitarian Program. I also understand that other resettlement countries such as the UK, America, Norway and Canada have since followed suit and resettled almost all the remaining Vietnamese.
May I therefore respectfully recommend that you, as we urge all other resettlement countries, to give sympathetic consideration to the plight of the 145 remaining stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines.
Let us work together to finalize this 17 year old predicament.
That is the end of the quote from the letter of Representative Rosales of the Philippine Congress.
There is clearly no durable solution to the situation of these stateless Vietnamese available in the Philippines.
Sadly, Canada, through the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, has taken the position that these stateless Vietnamese are not refugees. Canadian officials believe they have “integrated” into Filipino society.
I dispute this analysis. These are clearly people who have fled Vietnam because of their very real fear of persecution at the conclusion of the war. They remain in the Philippines without status. They have no legal rights, even to earning a living or education. I will maintain that statelessness and integration are exclusive of each other. A stateless person can never be fully integrated into a community or a society.
Canada has also maintained that other countries, which have resettled some of the stateless Vietnamese, have done so without recognizing them as refugees. This position is also disputed by those who have worked on the resettlement campaign. Testimony was presented to the standing committee by Mr. Hoi Trinh, an Australian lawyer who has spearheaded this resettlement campaign, that Norway passed a special law to recognize these people as refugees: Australia used its “Special Humanitarian Programme” and issued visas which recognized them as refugees within the visas.
On May 31, when the Vietnamese community again appeared before the standing committee, I asked Hoi Trinh if there was anything that characterized the remaining stateless Vietnamese. Did they present particular problems? Was there reason to be concerned about them, given that they had not been selected for resettlement by other countries?
Mr. Trinh replied:
No, and that's the most unfortunate thing. They have never been considered, so they have never been denied. It's not as if they were interviewed by the U.S. or Australia or Norway and then rejected because of their medical condition or a criminal background. They've never been considered. They've never even been interviewed.
I had an email update from Hoi Trinh yesterday. He reported that the United States returned to Manila last month to interview some cases for which specific appeals had been made and accepted a few more. This means that there are now 125 stateless Vietnamese remaining and these folks have 27 half-Filipino dependants; 125 people remain from the 500,000 who fled the war in Vietnam and its aftermath. Surely after all these years living in limbo they deserve a chance to make a new life with security and a future for themselves and their families.
I want to address what I think is the most important feature of this situation. Here in Canada those organizing to press this issue are members of the Vietnamese Canadian community. Most are people who also fled Vietnam after the war, most as boat people refugees. Most were among the 145,000 people resettled in Canada as the result of that huge refugee movement. These are people who received Canada's welcome. They know the support of our communities.
Now they have adapted to life in Canada. They have integrated into our communities. They have made a significant contribution to the Canadian cultural mosaic. They now know themselves to be Canadians and they want to extend the welcome they received in a time of trouble and difficulty to others who continue to face the same situation they knew.
This is an amazing success story. It demonstrates the way newcomers to Canada become part of our society and share in our values. Members of the Vietnamese Canadian community want to extend the same welcome they received to these stateless Vietnamese. They want to act on the Canadian values they benefited from themselves. They want to act on Canadian values they have come to share.
The Vietnamese Canadian community has rallied around this issue and this cause. Canadians, who were involved in the resettlement of boat people, are ready to be involved. Others who know the importance of refugee resettlement, where repatriation and other durable solutions are not available, are ready to be involved. All these Canadians are prepared to organize the support necessary to ensure these remaining stateless Vietnamese get a chance for a new life, a chance for a future that is secure, but they need our government to make such an important project possible. Canadians are ready to help.
Back on November 7 of this year, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration appeared before the standing committee. At that time I asked him about his response to the situation of Vietnamese boat people refugees who remained stranded in the Philippines. I would like to quote that exchange. I put the following to the minister:
I want to change topics, Minister, and ask about the stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines. You know the committee has taken a strong position on that. It has called on you to institute measures, either under the country of asylum class or under special humanitarian and compassionate grounds, to deal with the 140 people who are still in the Philippines without a durable solution to their circumstances.
I'm wondering if you have been able to take any action on that situation.
The minister replied:
I know you have an interest in this. Canada has already weighed in to try to provide some help for people in this situation. We feel we have done our share. We'd like to see the rest of the world jump in and pull their weight on this as well. I know it's a troubling situation.
We feel we're doing our job in terms of accepting refugees. In fact, we're going above and beyond, which is why we've been singled out by the UNHCR time and again for showing leadership on refugee issues. We would always like to be more generous, but we can't do everything.
That's the entire exchange, word for word.
I do not share the minister's opinion. I do not believe, as he put it, that “we have done our share”. Canadians are ready to do their part to assist this group of refugees. They are organized and they are standing by. Canada has made a huge and outstanding commitment in the past on which to draw in this regard. The resettlement of 145,000 Vietnamese refugees in Canada offers us a blueprint and incredible experience to get this job done and accomplished.
I urge all members of the House to support concurrence in the standing committee report and call upon the government to act urgently to find a mechanism to resettle these remaining stateless Vietnamese here in Canada.