Canada has demonstrated the political will to help refugees, but much more needs to be done to address the growing crisis of displaced people around the world, the United Nations refugee agency’s representative to Canada said.
On World Refugee Day, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative Jean-Nicolas Beuze said Canada has done its fair share of resettling refugees, especially with more recent efforts to welcome Syrian refugees.
But, with more than 65 million people forcibly displaced worldwide – representing a new post-Second World War record — wealthy countries need to do more to help, Beuze told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview from Ottawa.
“Canada did extremely well last year by resettling many, mainly Syrian, refugees,” Beuze said Tuesday, noting that refugees have seen “huge support” from local communityand faith-based organizations.
Earlier this year, the UNHCR praised Canada for resettling 46,700 refugees in 2016, a record number since 1978, when the Immigration Act came into effect. And according to UNHCR’s latest global trends report, more than 97,000 people recognized by the UN as refugees were living in Canada at the end of 2016.
But Beuze said that 1.2 million people worldwide are in immediate need of resettlement, and Canada’s refugee intake target for 2017 will accommodate only a small fraction.
According to the breakdown of Ottawa’s immigration plan for 2017, 9,000 resettlements will include 7,500 government-assisted refugees and 1,500 people admitted through a blended program that combines government and private sponsorships.
Ottawa also plans to resettle 16,000 privately-sponsored refugees this year.
Of the 1.2 million refugees who urgently need a safe haven, only 93,000 will be resettled this year, mainly in the United States, Canada and Australia, Beuze said.
“We need to have a discussion on whether a different mix of people can come (to Canada) as refugees.”
One potential solution is to admit some skilled, educated refugees through Canada’s economic class immigration program, he said.
Worldwide, “there’s a lack of understanding of what are the benefits of bringing in refugees,” Beauze said, noting that refugees play an important role in economies and societies around the globe.
While accepting refugees can be an expensive endeavour for governments, those costs are recouped down the road when resettled families become productive, tax-paying members of society, Beuze said.
The UNHCR is urging action from the international community, not just to help the agency resettle and protect displaced people, but to also address the root causes of the refugee crisis.
“We need action, political action, to stop conflicts,” Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Monday. “The message that they have carried is: ‘If you don’t solve problems, problems will come to you.’”
According to the UNHCR, 20 people were forced to flee their homes every minute in 2016. The total number of displaced people worldwide – 65.6 million — has roughly doubled since 1997, and risen by 50 percent since 2011 alone, when the war in Syria began.
For the third consecutive year, Turkey hosted the largest number of refugees worldwide: 2.9 million, mainly from neighbouring Syria. The other two top refugee host countries were Pakistan, with 1.4 million, and Lebanon, with 1 million people.
With files from The Associated Press