Tackling the global refugee crisis
Alex Neve of Amnesty International, pictured here during an anti President Trump protest at the Embassy of the United States in Ottawa, will be the latest Herr Lecture series speaker. (Wayne Cuddington/Postmedia Network)
Solving the global refugee crisis isn’t an easy task, but it’s a topic that will be explored during the latest installment of Burman University’s Herr Lecture series.
Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada Alex Neve will visit Lacombe March 18 to explore where the system has broken, and ways countries around the world can better address the issue.
The biggest examples of the crisis, Neve said, are perhaps the 5-million Syrian refugees who fled to Syria’s three neighbouring countries, and the more recent human rights violations which forced 700.000 Rohingya refugees to flee Myanmar in just four months.
The problem, he says, however, is not in the staggering statistics or those fleeing themselves, but the world’s response to them.
“Sadly, over the years, the world has become more hostile, more intolerant, less compassionate and less welcoming to refugees everywhere,” he said.
“What I will be emphasizing in my remarks on Sunday is that the crisis much more acutely lies not in the numbers and not in the refugees themselves, but in the response we’re seeing from governments around the world.”
While he admits accommodating the sheer number of refugees poses its own challenges in terms of processing claims, resettlement, and financial support, Neve says governments have made the problem worse.
“We do not have a reliable international system that ensures governments will work together to protect refugees. Instead we have a system that largely says to neighbouring countries, ‘you’re the lucky one...It’s your burden to bare,’” he said. “It’s not surprising, if we have this attitude that we don’t have a shared global responsibility for the safety and protection of refugees that all motivation for governments is to try and find ways to avoid refugees.”
During his lecture, he promises to share stories and show the human face of the crisis. Moreso, he’ll challenge attendees to question why governments are not working together to address it, and why the world sees refugees as “threats and problems” rather than view them with a sense of compassion.
On his end, he believes the attitude stems from some countries, like the U.S. and President Donald Trump, throwing refugees under the bus for political gain.
“He’s really fueled a sense of fear, some would say outright hatred, and certainly suspicion with respect to refugees and migrants,” he said.
While those attitudes aren’t new, he says they were largely left to the more extreme political parties and media publications. Now, they’ve become more mainstream, and gained momentum.
As for Canada’s part, he says the country is a beacon of shining hope, particularly in the commitment to resettle 45,000 Syrian refugees. In the global scheme of things, however, it was a small contribution and more needs to be done.
Providing general levels of financial support, stronger commitments to take in and resettle refugees, including those who have crossed into Canada illegally from the U.S., are just some examples of what Neve would like to see done.
Suspension of the Safe Third Country agreement, which requires refugee claimants request protection in the first country they land in, is something he, with Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Council of Churches are fighting for in court.
The agreement only applies to those trying to get into Canada from the U.S. at land-border crossings, which he says has resulted in people crossing at illegal entry points, sometimes resulting in injury or death.
Opposition members, such as Conservative critic for immigration, refugees and citizenship Michelle Rempel, have been clamouring for the government to close the loophole in the Safe Third Country agreement.
Neve says the opposite should be done.
“We’re not pleased that the loophole is encouraging people to make dangerous, irregular border crossings, but at least it does leave open the possibility that, if people are able to make it, they can still reach Canada and seek safety,” he said. “If the loophole’s closed off, there would be no possibility for people who are understandably very nervous and afraid in the U.S. to make it to Canada at all.
“We need to be more generous with regards to the situation at the Canada-U.S. border.”
The event will be held on Sunday, March 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the County Room at the Lacombe Memorial Centre. Admission is free, however, attendees should reserve tickets at www.burmanu.ca/herrlectures.
The Denise and Larry Herr Lecture series is one that has challenged students and area residents on a number of complex social issues, from the nature of restorative justice, the relationship between sexual orienteering and religion and being leaders in conflict prevention.
The next Herr Lecture will be on May 4 and feature Gabrielle Scrimshaw as she discusses how, as First Nations, she became the youngest associate in one of Canada’s most competitive finance programs and started a national organization for Aboriginal professionals, and why it’s important to invest in Aboriginal leadership, education and youth matters.