Canada’s resettlement of refugees highest in the world for first time in 72 years, new data shows
Robert Falconer, a researcher at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, speaks during a press conference on global refugee resettlement Wednesday. (Christina Ryan / StarMetro Calgary)
EDMONTON—Canada has taken the lead in refugee settlement for the first time in 72 years, according to new data compiled by a researcher at the University of Calgary, raising questions about the country’s role in navigating a growing, international refugee crisis.
Data compiled from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as well as other governments worldwide, shows that Canada resettled just under 30,000 refugees in 2018 — slightly exceeding the number of those resettled by countries in the European Union, and a few thousand more than those resettled by the United States, putting Canada in a historic lead.
Robert Falconer, a researcher at the U of C’s School of Public Policy, said that while Canada has increased its intake of Syrian refugees from the previous year by about 10,000, its position at the lead of refugee resettlement in large part has to do with the drastic decline in the U.S.’s resettlement of refugees in the last year.
“They’ve gone from resettling 65 to 70 per cent of the world’s resettled refugees to only 24 per cent,” Falconer said of the U.S., comparing the dramatic shift in numbers from 2016 to 2018. He added while some countries in the European Union, including Germany and the United Kingdom, have encouraged the resettlement of refugees, others, like Denmark and Hungary, have chosen to reduce their numbers or eliminate resettlement programs entirely.
“The pie has shrunk,” Falconer said of refugee resettlement efforts. “Canada is taking more of the pie.”
For this reason, Falconer anticipates that Canada’s role in refugee resettlement will be a hot topic during the upcoming federal election slated for the fall, and said conversations should be had on how Canada’s role will evolve if the trend by the U.S. of resettling less refugees continues.
“They’re the ones who lead by example, and they’re the ones who encourage other countries to get on board with resettling refugees,” Falconer said of the U.S., adding the dramatic shift in their foreign policy will have global implications, including a likely decrease of resettled refugees by some countries, while others try to fill the gap.
Because of the declining intake by the U.S., Canada may now bear the burden of leading resettlement efforts worldwide, Falconer said. This could be a positive step for the country, however, he said, as it provides an opportunity to lead and encourage Canadian-style resettlement programs.
“Whether or not we have the diplomatic clout to do so is another question,” Falconer said.
The term resettled refugees refers to migrants seeking asylum whose travel to Canada and other destination countries is planned. Their refugee status is pre-vetted by governments, the UNHCR, and other relief organizations. These refugees do not include asylum seekers, Falconer said, who enter a country through a border and then apply for asylum or refugee status.
“Resettled refugees are planned, they’re pre-vetted, there’s a security check done in place,” Falconer said. He added they don’t choose their country, rather the country instead chooses them.
As conversations about refugees and immigration heat up with the upcoming election, Falconer said it’s important to make the distinction between resettled refugees and asylum seekers, who are often wrongly lumped in the same category.
Alongside refugee resettlement, Canada is also currently grappling with an asylum seeker backlog, Falconer said. In 2015, the processing time for an asylum seeker was five months, but the wait time has jumped to around 33 months in recent years, Falconer said. He added the backlog is an issue the federal government should examine as the U.S. becomes more unco-operative in helping Canada address the issue.
“The asylum backlog represents an insecurity,” Falconer added. “In the sense that people may feel the government doesn’t have a handle on border security.” This is problematic, he said, as border security is tied to the public’s willingness to resettle more refugees.
There are currently 1.4 million refugees in need of resettlement worldwide, Falconer said, and that number continues rise. With the current refugee resettlement trends, Falconer said there is a need for Canada to try to negotiate greater resettlement efforts by other countries, otherwise this gap in resettlement numbers will continue to grow.
“What is Canada’s fair share in regards of refugee intake?” is the big question, Falconer said.
“I don’t think we’ve got it figured out.”
Source: The Star