Canada hasn’t opened its arms to all refugees—we must hold our government accountable

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As we praise Canada for welcoming Ukrainian refugees following Russia’s invasion, we must also acknowledge those Canada hasn’t welcomed. All refugees are deserving of our help—not only those from Europe.

This vital conversation about Canada’s discriminatory refugee policy can occur simultaneously with the acknowledgement of Canada’s positive action toward Ukrainians. The Board is calling for more direct action from Canada in supporting refugees, not less.

A recent op-ed in the CBC rightly calls attention to Canada’s neglect towards refugees from non-European countries. However, the Board disagrees with the author’s “performative activism” label of Canada’s decision to open our borders to Ukrainians—when tangible, meaningful action is taken to welcome refugees, it isn’t performative.

Nevertheless, the author has called vital attention to the political and racist motivations influencing Canada’s history of providing refuge.

Institutionalized anti-Blackness undeniably influences Canada’s stance towards refugees when we examine the lack of support this government has extended to refugees from African countries impacted by war.

As the CBC op-ed points out, Canada welcomed just 8,200 Sudanese refugees between 2005 and 2016—all of whom had to navigate difficult and complex immigration processes. Meanwhile, Canada has implemented a program that allows an unlimited number of approved Ukrainians to seek refuge in Canada for up to three years. Canada has also made family members of Ukrainian nationals eligible for this program regardless of their nationality.

These are commendable, necessary actions the government has taken. Canada should welcome Ukrainian refugees with open arms and provide a stable life for them in their time here. Yet we cannot let these positive changes to Canada’s immigration policy in a time of crisis allow us to forget the millions of people around the world who need help, those located outside of Europe.

Wars in Africa and Southwestern Asia—many conflicts which were created by Western interference and the lasting scars of colonialism—haven’t received a fraction of the attention or support of Ukraine.

It’s also clear politics and profit have much to do with Canada’s acceptance of refugees.

Despite the current war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, for example, Yemeni people aren’t accepted as refugees in Canada.

Canada has always supported Ukraine politically. It hasn’t always supported Yemen—and it approved a deal to sell $74-million worth of explosives to Saudi Arabia, a significant combatant fueling the war in Yemen.

When Canada opened its borders with an unprecedented Syrian refugee plan in 2015, it did so with the caveat that unaccompanied men would not be welcome to participate in the program due to “security concerns”—a move condemnable for its obvious racial and Islamophobic motivations.

Ukrainians who have been displaced by war must be welcomed by Canada. But until Canada stops profiting from war and dismantles its Eurocentric, Islamophobic, racist, and anti-Black ways we approach refugee crises, we can’t fully celebrate Canada’s open arms.

We must remain critical of those they’re closed to—and advocate for truly inclusive refugee policy.

—Journal Editorial Board

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