Over 100 people rallied in Fredericton on Saturday, Sept. 12 to denounce Canada’s inhumane refugee policies and participation in wars and occupations that created the conditions that the people of Syria, Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere are currently fleeing.
The rally was part of emergency cross-country actions that have been happening since the photograph of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on a shore in Turkey appeared almost two weeks ago.
Refugee rights groups across Canada are demanding that Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and Prime Minister Stephen Harper answer for the deaths of Kurdi and his five-year-old brother Ghalib and mother Rehanna.
“The Kurdi family was compelled to make their deadly journey due to Canada’s exclusionary refugee laws and policies. There is so much red tape to the refugee determination process that a family fleeing persecution doesn’t have time to deal with,” said Asaf Rashid, a migrant justice activist and law student at the University of New Brunswick.
“Due to the barriers that Canada [now] puts in place for refugee claimants, there has been a drop in the number of actual claims by 50% and a drop in accepted claims by 30%. But these numbers should be increasing, not decreasing. Today, there are more displaced people and refugees than at any time since World War II,” said Rashid.
“Almost 60 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced at the end of 2014, as a result of persecution, conflict and human rights violations, the highest level on record. Over 45,000 people have died crossing borders since 2000,” said Gül Çalışkan, a St. Thomas University sociology professor who specializes in global citizenship.
Organizers are convinced that they can change Canada’s refugee policies. Germans forced their government to change their refugee policies last week. Over 10,000 Icelandic families said they would opened their homes to refugees.
“Over 86% of the world’s refugees are housed in developing countries. Canada needs to do more to welcome refugees,” argued Çalışkan.
International Development Minister Christian Paradis announced an emergency relief fund for conflict-affected people in Syria and neighbouring countries that will match donations from Canadians up to $100 million on the same day as the Fredericton rally. Paradis said the fund will be used to provide food, clothing and healthcare to refugees.
“It’s not enough,” said Çalışkan. “Canada needs a massive overhaul of the immigration system. Canada needs to do more to protect refugees and it needs to offer permanent residency for all migrants. Canada must support the end of violence and war in Syria but not with military intervention.”
Never Home is a multi-media resource recently launched that shows the devastating effects of Canada’s changes to its immigrant and refugee policies. According to No One Is Illegal, the Canadian government deported 117,531 people between 2006 and 2014. The majority of those refused are refugees.
The Canadian government’s policies towards select groups of refugees has not been welcoming, according to speakers at the rally.
“Canada presumes that people from Muslim countries have a high chance of being terrorists or connected with terrorism, so Muslim refugee claimants have to prove that they are not terrorists to pass the security clearance to qualify as a refugee in Canada… This is an entirely unreasonable presumption based on a contrived fear. Meanwhile, refugees are fleeing from actual persecution, actual conditions that put their lives at peril and put them in positions where they are willing to make dangerous journeys just to find safety,” argued Rashid.
Also mentioned were the billboards the Canadian government placed in Hungary in 2013, warning against fraudulent refugee claims. Most refugee claimants to Canada in Hungary are Romani refugees. Rashid also drew attention to Canada’s refusal to accept refugee status for Palestinians, because Israel is considered a democratic state.
Ron Tremblay with the Wolastoq Grand Council welcomed people gathered at the rally to unceded Wolastoq territory and pointed out that the Canadian state is a colonial state that is also making indigenous people refugees on their own land.
Four hundred and fifty churches across Atlantic Canada have announced that they will sponsor 50 Syrian families. Sylvia Hale, a sociology professor at St. Thomas University, is leading efforts to organize donations to sponsor Syrian families in Fredericton. The Canadian Council for Refugees is arguing for the elimination of barriers to private sponsorship of refugees.
Saa Andrew, a refugee of Sierra Leone’s civil war and musician who lives in Fredericton, introduced a musical performance by a youth group from different African countries called Make Africa Proud (MAP). “We want to show you what refugees can give to your community,” said Saa Andrew.
The emergency cross-country events are endorsed by No One Is Illegal, Council of Canadians, Justice for Migrant Workers, Greenpeace Canada, UNIFOR Canada, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and others.
The Fredericton rally, endorsed and supported by Fredericton Palestine Solidarity, the Fredericton Chapter of the Council of Canadians and the Fredericton District Labour Council, was organized by a small group of Fredericton residents. Political parties present at the rally included Green Party and NDP members. Mary Lou Babineau, Fredericton Green Party Candidate, Sharon Scott-Levesque, Fredericton NDP Candidate and Terry Wishart, Mactaquac-Tobique Green Party candidate, spoke at the rally and supported the rally’s demands of opening Canada’s borders for more refugees.
The Fredericton rally organizers plan to form a refugee solidarity group that will do both political action to support refugees and immigrants, raise money for sponsorship of refugee families and support the new families to Fredericton with their needs as they arrive.
Judie Acquin-Miksovsky, a Wolastoq artist and activist, read a poem at the Fredericton rally called Motionless by Crystal Smith de Molina, a Tsimshian and Haisla warrior mother. The last verse of the poem speaks to the senseless death of Alan Kurdi, his brother and mother, and the need for everyone to speak up for refugees:
“He didn’t have to die
didn’t have to die
they barely experienced life
and death took them took them
because we didn’t
their blood is on our hands
their frail body lifeless
because we live silently
they didn’t have to die
We don’t have to be silent.”