Saturday, June 20th is World Refugee Day. Today, we reaffirm our solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, and internally displaced people worldwide.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that at least 70.8 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes in recent years. Among them are nearly 25.9 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. These are not numbers but human beings—people primarily from Africa, the Middle East, south Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean—who have been forcibly displaced as a result of armed conflict, violence (including violence against women), and human rights violations including persecution based on race, religion, nationality, sexuality, belief, or membership in a particular social group.
Despite misconceptions about the generosity of Western governments, 80% of refugees are hosted by countries neighboring their countries of origin, including some of the poorest states in the Global South, often in large refugee camps where refugees face a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19. Western countries have engaged in aggressive, costly, and racist anti-migrant campaigns in the past decade to keep refugees out of their countries by any means necessary. Thousands of people have been killed during this period for attempting to cross international waters and borders. Those who were able to cross face detention, racism, and xenophobia.
Under Trump, the United States has made it extremely difficult for refugees and asylum seekers by imposing new restrictions that have made it even harder than before for people to claim protection. Canada, despite welcoming gestures by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has not been as caring as it claims. A crisis was manufactured in the media when asylum seekers were forced to irregularly cross the border despite having the right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to seek asylum regardless of the manner of their entry. Refugees continue to represent a small percentage of new immigrants to Canada and many asylum seekers are regularly denied refugee status. While awaiting a decision regarding their claim, many refugees are held indefinitely in our immigration centres.
Refugee rights have been deliberately overlooked and violated, especially in the climate of hatred stirred by the rise of right-wing and white supremacist movements in the West and around the world. Though the election of Donald Trump in the United States emboldened these racist elements, Canada is not and has never been immune from their influence. Anti-refugee sentiment, anti-Black racism, and oppression of Indigenous peoples are much more widespread and systemic than many people in Canada, especially those with class and race privileges, would feel comfortable acknowledging.
The labour movement has a responsibility to challenge these voices of hatred and work with allies to ensure refugees get the help they need. In that spirit, CUPE Ontario supports the work of organizations like Justice for Migrant Workers and the Migrant Rights Network, in addition to the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants and the Canadian Council of Refugees. These groups are providing the advocacy and support refugees so desperately need.
CUPE Ontario is strongly committed to work with our members, many of whom are refugees and migrants from different parts of the world, who are providing essential public services in communities across Canada. We are resolute in supporting our Racial Justice, International Solidarity, and our Human Rights Committees to ensure we are removing all barriers internally and within our workplaces and to work closely with our allies in refugee rights and anti-racist movements to combat systemic racism here in Canada and globally.