Canadian-led movement aims to seize assets from dictators to remedy refugee crisis

The proposal will be one of the main recommendations of the World Refugee Council, a self-appointed body of two dozen global political figures, academics and civil-society representatives led by former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy.

“We’ve put forward a proposition that where there are frozen assets they should be unfrozen through a proper legal process and reallocated to help the victims of the crime and corruption and instability that the bad guys create,” said Axworthy. “It’s a morality play. The bad guys have to pay to help their victims.”

The World Bank estimates the pool of cash to be worth $10 billion to $20 billion per year, Axworthy said in an interview.

The council was established last year by a Canadian think-tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, to find new ways to deal with the 21st century’s record-setting migration crisis — the 68.5 million displaced people driven from their homes by war, famine and disaster.

The United Nations will turn its attention to solving the problem at a special session later this fall, and the council plans to offer its input, using the weight of the last Canadian foreign minister to chair a Security Council meeting.

The UN has acknowledged in stark terms that as the number of homeless and stateless people continues to grow around the globe, their suffering is increased by the shrinking pool of money available to help them.

‘Proceeds put for the public good’

Axworthy says there are fundamental structural flaws in how the world’s institutions are set up to cope with the unprecedented forced migration of people, and a big one is how the bills are paid. The system is based on charity — the benevolent donations of people, countries and businesses — and is not sustainable, Axworthy said.

An October report by the United Nations refugee agency said it expected to raise 55 per cent of the $8 billion it needs to support refugees and internally displaced people this year.

Axworthy said the courts in several countries can be used to seize funds that have been frozen there. Canada, the United States and Britain have all passed legislation allowing them to impose sanctions on individual human-rights abusers. These “Magnitsky laws” are named after a Russian tax accountant who died in prison after exposing a massive fraud by state officials there.

The world could start spending the “tens of billions of dollars moulding away in a variety of banks and other places, purloined money from the warlords, from the bad guys, the dictators, the authoritarians,” Axworthy said.

Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister and human-rights lawyer who has championed Magnitsky-style legislation, said in a separate interview that these laws can allow to go beyond freezing funds, because once the assets are seized, there’s no point to returning them to their corrupt owners.

“What you want to do is have the proceeds put for the public good,” said Cotler, the founder of the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Legal precedent

Canada’s first round of sanctions under its Magnitsky Act targeted people in Russia, South Sudan and Venezuela, including Nicolas Maduro, the South American country’s president.

The refugee council’s most recent report, released last month, focused on the displacement of millions of people from Venezuela. That report urged the United States to take a leading role in seizing billions of “ill-gotten” assets in the country, including the $2 billion that the U.S. Treasury Department estimates has been stolen from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.

Fen Hampson, who co-wrote the report and is head of the global security program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, suggested governments need to go beyond their various Magnitsky laws to repurpose the seized assets of “Maduro and some of his henchmen … to help victims and the host countries that are reeling under this growing refugee and migration crisis.”

The Magnitsky Act, named after a Russian lawyer and auditor who was arrested on trumped-up charges and died in prison, has Russia threatening retaliation against Canada. The proposed law targets those responsible for human rights abuses and corruption. 2:15

The report said there is legal precedent to do this: a civil case against the son of the dictatorial leader of Equatorial Guinea resulted in a $30-million judgement, $20 million of which was later used by a charity to help the country’s people.

In Yemen, where most of the inhabitants of the port city of Hodeida were forced to flee Friday as Saudi Arabia’s three-year war on Shiite rebels continued, the UN World Food Program’s country director said a massive cash influx is needed to repair the battered economy and feed a population on the verge of starvation.

Stephen Anderson said it’s up to others, higher up in the UN, to decide whether that money should be siphoned from a warlord’s frozen bank account.

“We’re 100-per-cent voluntary funded,” Anderson said. “The economic issues need to be addressed urgently because that’s affecting the entire population of Yemen. They were the poorest in the Middle East before the conflict so there’s no safety net.”

Source: Canadian-led movement aims to seize assets from dictators to remedy refugee crisis

The Nauru Experience: Zero-Tolerance Immigration and Suicidal Children

Good and disturbing reporting:

She was 3 years old when she arrived on Nauru, a child fleeing war in Sri Lanka. Now, Sajeenthana is 8.

Her gaze is vacant. Sometimes she punches adults. And she talks about dying with ease.

“Yesterday I cut my hand,” she said in an interview here on the remote Pacific island where she was sent by the Australian government after being caught at sea. She pointed to a scar on her arm.

“One day I will kill myself,” she said. “Wait and see, when I find the knife. I don’t care about my body. ”

Her father tried to calm her, but she twisted away. “It is the same as if I was in war, or here,” he said.

Sajeenthana is one of more than 3,000 refugees and asylum seekerswho have been sent to Australia’s offshore detention centers since 2013. No other Australian policy has been so widely condemned by the world’s human rights activists nor so strongly defended by the country’s leaders, who have long argued it saves lives by deterring smugglers and migrants.

Now, though, the desperation has reached a new level — in part because of the United States.

Sajeenthana and her father are among the dozens of refugees on Nauru who had been expecting to be moved as part of an Obama-era deal that President Trump reluctantly agreed to honor, allowing resettlement for up to 1,250 refugees from Australia’s offshore camps.

So far, according to American officials, about 430 refugees from the camps have been resettled in the United States — but at least 70 people were rejected over the past few months.

That includes Sajeenthana and her father, Tamil refugees who fled violence at home after the Sri Lankan government crushed a Tamil insurgency.

A State Department spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the rejections, arguing the Nauru refugees are subject to the same vetting procedures as other refugees worldwide.

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs said in a statement that Nauru has “appropriate mental health assessment and treatment in place.”

But what’s clear, according to doctors and asylum seekers, is that the situation has been deteriorating for months. On Nauru, signs of suicidal children have been emerging since August. Dozens of organizations, including Doctors Without Borders (which was ejected from Nauru on Oct. 5) have been sounding the alarm. And with the hope of American resettlement diminishing, the Australian government has been forced to relent: Last week officials said they would work toward moving all children off Nauru for treatment by Christmas.

At least 92 children have been moved since August — Sajeenthana was evacuated soon after our interview — but as of Tuesday there were still 27 children on Nauru, hundreds of adults, and no long-term solution.

The families sent to Australia for care are waiting to hear if they will be sent back to Nauru. Some parents, left behind as their children are being treated, fear they will never see each other again if they apply for American resettlement, while asylum seekers from countries banned by the United States — like Iran, Syria and Somalia — lack even that possibility.

For all the asylum seekers who have called Nauru home, the psychological effects linger.

Nauru is a small island nation of about 11,000 people that takes 30 minutes by car to loop. A line of dilapidated mansions along the coast signal the island’s wealthy past; in the 1970s, it was a phosphate-rich nation with per capita income second only to Saudi Arabia.

Now, those phosphate reserves are virtually exhausted, and the country relies heavily on Australian aid. It accounted for 25 percent of Nauru’s gross domestic product last year alone.

Mathew Batsiua, a former Nauruan lawmaker who helped orchestrate the offshore arrangement, said it was meant to be a short-term deal. But the habit has been hard to break.

“Our mainstay income is purely controlled by the foreign policy of another country,” he said.

In Topside, an area of old cars and dusty brush, sits one of the two processing centers that house about 160 detainees. Hundreds of others live in community camps of modular housing. They were moved from shared tents in August, ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum, an intergovernmental meeting that Nauru hosted this year.

Sukirtha Krishnalingam, 15, said the days are a boring loop as she and her family of five — certified refugees from Sri Lanka — wait to hear if the United States will accept them. She worries about her heart condition. And she has nightmares.

“At night, she screams,” said her brother Mahinthan, 14.

In the past year, talk of suicide on the island has become more common. Young men like Abdullah Khoder, a 24-year-old Lebanese refugee, says exhaustion and hopelessness have taken a toll. “I cut my hands with razors because I am tired,” he said.

Even more alarming: Children now allude to suicide as if it were just another thunderstorm. Since 2014, 12 people have died after being detained in Australia’s offshore detention centers on Nauru and Manus Island, part of Papua New Guinea.

Christina Sivalingam, a 10-year-old Tamil girl on Nauru spoke matter-of-factly in an interview about seeing the aftermath of one death — that of an Iranian man, Fariborz Karami, who killed himself in June.

“We came off the school bus and I saw the blood — it was everywhere,” she said calmly. It took two days to clean up. She said her father also attempted suicide after treatment for his thyroid condition was delayed.

Seeing some of her friends being settled in the United States while she waits on her third appeal for asylum has only made her lonelier. She said she doesn’t feel like eating anymore.

“Why am I the only one here?” she said. “I want to go somewhere else and be happy.”

Some observers, even on Nauru, wonder if the children are refusing to eat in a bid to leave. But medical professionals who have worked on the island said the rejections by the Americans have contributed to a rapid deterioration of people’s mental states.

Dr. Beth O’Connor, a psychiatrist working with Doctors Without Borders, said that when she arrived last year, people clung to the hope of resettlement in the United States. In May, a batch of rejections plunged the camp into despair.

Mr. Karami’s death further sapped morale.

“People that just had a bit of spark in their eye still just went dull,” Dr. O’Connor said. “They felt more abandoned and left behind.”

Many of the detainees no longer hope to settle in Australia. New Zealand has offered to take in 150 refugees annually from Nauru but Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, has said that he will only consider the proposal if a bill is passed banning those on Nauru from ever entering Australia. Opposition lawmakers say they are open to discussion.

In the meantime, Nauru continues to draw scrutiny.

For months, doctors say, many children on Nauru have been exhibiting symptoms of resignation syndrome — a mental condition in response to trauma that involves extreme withdrawal from reality. They stopped eating, drinking and talking.

“They’d look right through you when you tried to talk to them,” Dr. O’Connor said. “We watched their weights decline and we worried that one of them would die before they got out.”

Lawyers with the National Justice Project, a nonprofit legal service, have been mobilizing. They have successfully argued for the medical evacuation of around 127 people from Nauru this year, including 44 children.

In a quarter of the cases, the government has resisted these demands in court, said George Newhouse, the group’s principal lawyer.

“We’ve never lost,” he said. “It is gut-wrenching to see children’s lives destroyed for political gain.”

A broad coalition that includes doctors, clergy, lawyers and nonprofit organizations, working under the banner #kidsoffnauru, is now calling for all asylum seekers to be evacuated.

Public opinion in Australia is turning: In one recent poll, about 80 percent of respondents supported the removal of families and children from Nauru.

Australia’s conservative government, with an election looming, is starting to shift.

“We’ve been going about this quietly,” Mr. Morrison said last week. “We haven’t been showboating.”

But there are still questions about what happens next.

Last month, Sajeenthana stopped eating. After she had spent 10 days on a saline drip in a Nauruan hospital, her father was told he had two hours to pack for Australia.

Speaking by video from Brisbane last week (we are not using her full name because of her age and the severity of her condition), Sajeenthana beamed.

“I feel better now that I am in Australia,” she said. “I’m not going back to Nauru.”

But her father is less certain. The United States rejected his application for resettlement in September. There are security guards posted outside their Brisbane hotel room, he said, and though food arrives daily, they are not allowed to leave. He wonders if they have swapped one kind of limbo for another, or if they will be forced back to Nauru.

Australia’s Home Affairs minister has said the Nauru children will not be allowed to stay.

“Anyone who is brought here is still classified as a transitory person,” said Jana Favero, director of advocacy and campaigns at the Asylum Seeker Resource Center. “Life certainly isn’t completely rosy and cheery once they arrive in Australia.”

On Monday, 25 more people, including eight children, left the island in six family units, she said.

Those left behind on Nauru pass the days, worrying and waiting.

Christina often dreams of what life would be like somewhere else, where being 10 does not mean being trapped.

A single Iranian woman who asked not to be identified because she feared for her safety said that short of attempting suicide or changing nationality, there was no way off Nauru.

She has been waiting two years for an answer to her application for resettlement in the United States — one that now seems hopeless given the Trump administration’s policies.

Each night, often after the power goes out on Nauru, she and her sister talk about life and death, and whether to harm themselves to seek freedom.

Source: The Nauru Experience: Zero-Tolerance Immigration and Suicidal Children 

Pilot project aims to bring refugees to Canada as skilled workers

Interesting. Will be good to see how the pilot works in Canada:

Call it a global job recruitment agency for refugees.

A Washington-based NGO has built a refugee talent pool and is matching candidates with employers from around the world. Not only does it help pull displaced migrants out of poverty, it alleviates labour shortages in western countries by providing them with skilled workers.

Since its 2016 inception, Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) has vetted and developed skill profiles for more than 10,000 refugees now in Lebanon and Jordan — 30 per cent of them with an undergrad degree or above and half with intermediate to full English proficiency.

The talent pool includes people from 200 professions, the majority with a background in engineering, health care, IT, teaching, accounting and university education.

“We need to change the narrative of the way we view refugees as unskilled and uneducated,” said Bruce Cohen, a former counsel in the U.S. Senate, who co-founded the organization with his wife Mary Louise Cohen, also a lawyer. “This is not to undercut the existing refugee resettlement effort but to open up new pathways to add to the solution.”

With an established — and still expanding — talent pool as well as backing from the United Nations Refugee Agency, the project has reached out to Canadian employers and is using Canada as the testing ground to bring in skilled refugees on work permits and maybe even as permanent residents.

Funded by the U.S. State Department, the World Bank and other private foundations, TBB is partnering with the Canadian government, the UN and RefugePoint, an agency that promotes refugee resettlement and self-reliance, to divert refugees in Kenya and the Middle East to Canada through a pilot program. The pilot has the support of Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and the Yukon. All candidates must go through the same stringent requirements to qualify.

To date, across Canada, job offers have been made to six refugee candidates, including Mohammed Hakmi, who fled to Beirut with his family in 2011 when war broke out in Syria.

The native of Homs has a degree in information technology and more than five years of experience as a web developer and in computer networking. After responding to a post on Facebook by TBB, Hakmi was interviewed in English and assessed by experts in IT. Staff helped build his resumé to highlight his skills, experience and achievements.

“Being a refugee doesn’t mean a person is uneducated, that he or she is not innovative and effective in society. Many of us had good careers. No one chose to be a refugee and get trapped in these really terrible circumstances,” said Hakmi, 26, who, in September, applied for a work permit with a job offer from Kitchener-based tech firm Bonfire Interactive, with pro bono help from Toronto’s Segal Immigration Law.

“Refugees are not a liability but actually a good investment for the future. When you have been through so much, you value every opportunity you are given because you know how much of a gift it is. Refugees are the most dedicated workers you will find.”

Kris Braun, Bonfire’s director of engineering, said the company is looking to double its size and would require a number of talented software developers, who are in short supply.

“Canada’s tech industry is growing at a fast rate and we struggle to find good (job) candidates,” he said. “Refugees are trying to rebuild their lives after fleeing wars and conflicts. Part of it is to hold meaningful work. This is a win-win for us.”

Cohen said skilled worker and economic immigration policies are not designed with refugees’ circumstances in mind and requirements such as recent work experience and minimum settlement funds make it impossible for skilled refugees to qualify. It limits their migration options to humanitarian consideration only, he said.

Currently, fewer than 1 per cent of the 20 million UN-registered refugees around the world are resettled from a temporary host country in the developing world to the west.

“If you are a refugee or displaced person, you either run without your passport or your passport has likely expired while you are in another country,” said Cohen. “It’s these kinds of things that we need some flexibility and adjustments to make a difference.”

Cohen said he hopes to resettle as many as 25 refugees to Canada under the joint pilot with Ottawa and if successful, expand it to other countries.

Source: Pilot project aims to bring refugees to Canada as skilled workers

Douglas Todd: Refugees earn more than most Canadians after 25 years

Good solid analysis by IRCC and confirms what I am seeing in some of the data that I am looking at:

Refugees who arrived in the late 1980s and early 1990s are now earning more than the average Canadian.

An internal immigration department document shows that, after 25 years in the country, a typical refugee is earning as much or more than the Canadian norm, which is about $45,000 a year.

The document quotes a senior department official who says the long-term study of refugees’ wages suggests the recent wave of 50,000 refugees from Syria could several decades from now do as well as earlier refugees in regards to earnings.

“In a nutshell this is the trajectory we would expect (all things being equal) from government-assisted refugees and privately-sponsored refugees,” senior immigration department official Umit Kiziltan writes in a memo obtained under an access to information request.

The immigration and tax department data, which tracks refugees’ earnings from 1981 to 2014, shows that average government-assisted refugees earned less than $20,000 a year in their first decade in the country, when many families rely on provincial welfare and other government benefits to get by.

However, after 25 to 30 years in Canada, the average refugee is earning roughly $50,000 a year, about $5,000 more than the average Canadian. The study also shows the earnings gap between government-assisted refugees, who initially do worse than privately-sponsored refugees, basically disappears over the long run.

The largest groups of refugees to Canada in the 1980s and early 1990s came from Vietnam, Cambodia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa. In that era the total number of refugees arriving ranged from 15,000 to 40,000 annually. In recent years Canada has accepted more than 50,000 refugees from war-torn Syria alone.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who obtained the internal government documents, said they contain reliable information that strongly indicate most refugees, no matter where they come from, develop usable skills and do well in the labour market over their careers.

However, even though the senior immigration department’s memo welcomed the news that refugees who arrived several decades ago perform well, Kiziltan cautioned that it’s hard to forecast how more recent refugees will do, given the “cyclical nature of the economy overall and especially (the) human capital of the Syrian cohorts.”

The report, in addition, also does not compare the earnings of refugees who have been in Canada for several decades (which means many would be in their 50s and at the peak of their careers) with the earnings of other Canadians of the same age cohort.

The data on refugees’ slow road to labour-market success in Canada comes on the heels of 2018 controversies over thousands of asylum seekers illegally crossing the Canadian border, a Syrian refugee being charged with the murder of Burnaby teenager Marrisa Shenand a Postmedia story revealing the federal Liberal government has not produced any report in two years on whether recent Syrian refugees are learning English or French, working, receiving social assistance or going to school.

This is not the first federal government indication, however, that many refugees eventually earn solid incomes. In 2014 then-federal Conservative immigration department minister Jason Kenney cancelled the contentious immigrant-investor program while revealing that refugees were actually paying more in Canadian income taxes than wealthy newcomers who had in effect bought their Canadian passports.

Asked about the contrast between taxes paid in Canada by refugees and rich immigrants, Kurland said it’s “a complicated comparison.” The breadwinner of an immigrant-investor family, Kurland explained, “usually returns home to support the family’s millionaire lifestyle in Canada” and therefore, unlike a refugee who stays in Canada, doesn’t pay significant income taxes in this country.

Previous studies have consistently shown that, while adult refugees often struggle in the short to medium term, many of their children quickly perform well in their new land, in large part because they gain extra social support, a taxpayer-funded education in English or French and the time to develop skills.

This recent internal study of refugee earnings, however, is among the first to emphasize that, over many decades, most of the refugees who had direct experience of war, persecution and trauma in their homeland are capable of attaining financial success in the country that welcomed them.

Source: Douglas Todd: Refugees earn more than most Canadians after 25 years

Refugee and immigrant youth are more likely to end up in the emergency room during a mental health crisis than their Canadian-born peers, a new medical study shows

Not too surprising but nevertheless significant:

Refugee and immigrant youth are more likely to end up in the emergency room during a mental health crisis than their Canadian-born peers, a new medical study shows.

Newcomers did not seek early help from primary care doctors likely due to barriers in accessing and using outpatient mental health services, said researchers from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and the Hospital for Sick Children.

“Efforts are needed to reduce stigma and identify mental health problems early, before crises, among immigrant populations,” said the study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal Tuesday.

Based on health and demographic data, researchers looked at emergency department visits for mental health issues by youth between the ages of 10 and 24 years in Ontario.

They identified a total of 118,851 young people who visited an ER with a mental health concern between 2010 and 2014, including 1.8 per cent or 2,194 refugees and 5.6 per cent or 6,680 non-refugee immigrants. The rest were Canadian.

“Most major mental illnesses have an age of onset in adolescence and young adulthood with about 20 per cent of youth experiencing mental illness. Our findings suggest that there are important subgroups of immigrant and refugee children who face barriers in accessing outpatient mental health care,” said study co-author Dr. Astrid Guttmann, chief science officer at ICES and staff pediatrician at Sick Kids.

“Interventions to improve access to the mental health system should consider the needs of specific immigrant populations.”

The gaps between immigrant and non-immigrant youth can be attributed to differences in culture, language proficiency, ability to navigate health services and even referral biases by health care providers, said the report.

While the majority of youth sought help for mental health issues at an emergency department first, the rate was higher for newcomers. The study found 61.3 per cent of refugee youth, 57.6 per cent of non-refugee immigrants and 51.3 per cent of Canadian youth went to an ER first.

Report lead author Dr. Natasha Saunders, a pediatrician at Sick Kids and adjunct scientist at ICES, said the differences are both statistically and clinically significant.

“Emergency services are important for managing acute mental health crises, but for most mental health disorders, primary care would be the most appropriate place for treatment and referral to specialized services,” she explained

“The high proportion of immigrant and refugee youth who have not been previously assessed for mental health problems suggests a need to understand specific cultural and other barriers and enabling factors related to the use of mental health services and access to care.”

Among all immigrants, recent arrivals had the highest proportion (64.3 per cent) of first contact in the emergency department, as did non-refugee immigrants from East Asia (61.7 per cent) and refugees from Africa (65.4 per cent), Central America (64.6 per cent) and East Asia (62.5 per cent).

Those who live in low-income and rural areas and those without OHIP coverage also had higher rates of first contact for mental health in the ER, said the report.

Source: Refugee and immigrant youth more likely to end up in ER during mental health crisis, study shows

The New Collateral Damage in Trump’s War on Refugees

While true that settlement and refugee agencies and organizations will suffer, the main issue is the impact of refugees and asylum seekers:

When the Trump administration announced its intention to slash the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States to the lowest level in nearly four decades, the decision sparked worry among thousands of displaced persons who feared that the nation’s doors were now closed to them. But in addition to the record number of global refugees seeking safety from unrest in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, the admissions cap will likely also harm organizations designed to help the thousands of displaced people who do make it safely to the United States.

As the U.S. government slows the number of legal refugees who can enter the country to a trickle, the nine private voluntary agencies with cooperative agreements with the State Department to help settle those refugees must now contend with a potentially devastating budget crunch.

“It’ll have a tremendous impact on the number of people who are able to access these life-saving services,” Nazanin Ash, vice president of policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee, told The Daily Beast. “There’ve been over 150 office closures over the last two years, and that shutters a vital resource in many communities across the country.”

An estimated 25.4 million refugees have fled their homelands worldwide, according to the United Nations—the highest recorded number of displaced people in history. As of 2019, the U.S. will only allow an annual maximum of only 30,000 refugees to legally settle in the U.S., down from the previous record low of 45,000.

“This is heartbreaking for us,” said Melanie Nezer, the senior vice president of public affairs at HIAS, a non-profit that has helped settle refugees in the United States for nearly 140 years. “We have so many layers of uncertainty right now, it’s just unprecedented really… there’s no way that this decision makes us a stronger, more prosperous nation.”

Government grants, provided on a per capita basis tied to the number of refugees assisted, account for as much as 97 percent of the resettlement grants for these organizations. Lower resettlement admissions therefore mean fewer federal dollars—and program funding is now set to plummet as precipitously as the number of admitted refugees.

That loss in grant money threatens a funding shortfall that could endanger community-based resettlement offices nationwide, as well as programs intended to help those who have fled their homes to establish a life in the United States, from housing placement and food support to professional support, English classes and community integration.

“If we don’t have cases for case managers to manage, of course we’ll be reducing staff,” Eskinder Negash, CEO of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, told The Daily Beast. Negash, who served as director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement for six years under President Barack Obama, said that his organization’s main concern wasn’t its financial standing, but its ability to do its job on behalf of vulnerable refugees.

“Our commitment to refugee services and immigrants in this country goes back to 1911,” Negash said. “It’s not about preserving our institution—it’s about not being able to serve those people who need our services.”

When he announced the administration’s refugee policy for 2019 in a press conference on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the 30,000 refugee figure as “expansive,” and said it befitted the United States’ “longstanding record of the most generous nation in the world when it comes to protection-based immigration and assistance.”

Under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, the president has the sole authority, following consultation with Congress, to determine the maximum number of refugees who can be resettled in the United States, called the Presidential Determination. Under President Donald Trump, the Presidential Determination was decreased from 110,000 in 2017 to 45,000 refugees in 2018, one-seventh of its peak. Even then, the cap is a limit, not a requirement—so far, only 20,918 refugees have actually been admitted to the United States this year.

By comparison, the average annual ceiling has been set at 96,229 refugees since the program’s creation in 1980.

The policy is in keeping with the Trump administration’s goal of discouraging both legal and illegal immigration into the United States, in part due to concerns that immigrants from certain parts of the world would fail to properly integrate into American society. In May, White House chief of staff John Kelly prompted criticism when he told NPR that undocumented immigrants are, by and large, “not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society… they don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills.”

But slashing government grants tied to refugee admissions would only undermine the objective of quickly assimilating new residents into American society, advocates told The Daily Beast.

“If your goal is to help immigrants and refugees contribute as much as they can to America society, then you would fund these programs,” said Nezer. The motivation behind these reductions, Nezer inferred, isn’t integration. “The goal is to keep people from coming.”

Advocates dismissed the notion—held firmly by the president—that refugees are a cultural or financial burden on the country, pointing to the government’s own studies that have shown refugees to be singularly beneficial to the U.S. economy.

“The opportunities that they are provided here is received with gratefulness and ambition—you get a chance to restart and rebuild in safety and security—and refugees pay back that opportunity in spades,” said Ash. “The administration has characterized refugees as burdensome, when in fact the opposite is true.”

Refugees, Ash noted, have higher rates of employment than many other immigrant populations, their entrepreneurship rates are 40 percent higher—“so they’re job creators”—and are estimated by the Department of Health and Human Services to have contributed a net $63 billion to the U.S. economy over the past decade. (The Trump administration has rejected the validity of that study.)

“Over 80 percent of the refugees who participate in employment programs are self-sufficient in six months,” Ash said proudly. “Show me the evidence that refugees aren’t assimilating! Show me the evidence that they are not economic contributors!”

A decrease in the number of resettlement offices may even even reignite a family separation crisis, warned Nezia Munezero Kubwayo, a community relations officer with the Ethiopian Community Development Council.

“A reduction in numbers and funding could mean that long-awaited family reunifications will never happen,” Kubwayo told The Daily Beast. “Children who have been languishing in refugee camps waiting for an opportunity for a better future will be affected. Every number that is reduced from resettlement represents a person whose hope is taken away.”

Nezer cautioned that the grant reduction won’t just negatively affect the refugees they’re intended to serve, but may foster a sense of isolation and complacency among native-born Americans.

“Fewer resettlement offices means fewer opportunities for people to volunteer and work with refugees,” Nezer explained. “If fewer refugees come, and fewer Americans get to engage directly with refugees, that kind of starts a cycle where there’s less direct connection” with refugee populations.

“As fewer comes and fewer Americans get to have that relationship, then there’s less support for letting refugees in at all.”

Criticism of the lowered refugee admission cap hasn’t just come from refugee resettlement organizations and advocacy groups. In a blistering statement released Tuesday evening, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) lambasted—his words—the Trump administration’s decision to announce the admissions cuts without consulting Congress, as is legally required.

“It is imperative the agencies abide by their statutory mandate to consult with Congress before any number is proposed,” Grassley said. “Yet, for the second year in a row, the administration has willfully ignored its statutory mandate to inform and consult with Congress.”

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, echoed Grassley’s condemnation on Thursday. “The law is clear: the administration must consult with Congress prior to the president’s determination of the annual refugee ceiling,” Goodlatte, a staunch Trump ally on most issues but is retiring after the midterm elections, told reporters. “But this did not happen this year, and the Trump administration has no excuse for not complying with their obligation.”

Grassley, who on issues ranging from the legitimacy of the Russia investigation to the president’s frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions has normally been a staunch Trump ally, has criticized the Trump administration for its rogue determination of refugee admission levels before. In 2017, Grassley joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, in declaring that the committee’s leadership was “incredibly frustrated” with Trump’s refusal to consult with Congress when White House announced that it would slash refugee admission numbers by more than half.

This time, Grassley’s condemnation came with an implied threat. Noting that presidential determinations can’t be issued without in-person consultation with Congress by a member of the Cabinet, Grassley let slip that the draconian cuts to refugee admissions might now face opposition from an unconsulted Republican-held Congress.

“It is clear by the administration’s action that Congress should take action to ensure the required discussions occur in the future,” Grassley said.

Grassley’s frustrations have rare backing on the Democratic side of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well.

“This is one of the few areas—consultation with Congress—where there is some bipartisan agreement about the fact that the White House is abandoning past practice of genuinely consulting with Congress on refugee caps,” David Carle, a spokesperson for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), told The Daily Beast.

Grassley’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment as to what that “action” might look like, but Mary Giovagnoli, the executive director of Refugee Council USA, said that there are many options available if Congress is willing to take on the president.

“Congress can push right now for the President to increase the cap—since the president hasn’t actually signed this year’s Presidential Determination or held the annual consultations as required by law,” Giovagnoli told The Daily Beast. “We need to hold the administration accountable for its failure to meet this year’s cap, its policy reasons for further cutting the admissions goal this year, as well as ensuring that the number, whatever it ultimately is, is actually met.”

Historically, Giovagnoli said, Congress has given the president significant flexibility to set a refugee admission figure that reflected worldwide needs and foreign policy considerations. But when the president refuses to use that authority responsibly, Giovagnoli said, “it makes sense for Congress to revisit the process.”

In the meantime, refugee resettlement organizations are focusing on their mission, at a time when there are more refugees and internally displaced persons than ever before.

“The real issue is that refugees—single moms, children—will not be able to come to this country,” Negash said. “It’s the people that matter—not the finances.”

Source: The New Collateral Damage in Trump’s War on Refugees

Parrainage de réfugiés syriens: des citoyens passent la nuit dehors

A good news story that Quebec is far from monolithic in its views on immigration and refugees:

Des Québécois ont passé la nuit d’hier à aujourd’hui devant les locaux du ministère de l’Immigration afin de s’assurer que leur demande de parrainage de réfugiés syriens soit parmi les 750 qui seront acceptées pour étude dès la réouverture du programme aujourd’hui.

La file d’attente devant les bureaux du ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion du Québec (MIDI) a commencé vers 16h, hier. Le premier sur place est arrivé avec une chaise et de quoi passer la nuit dans la rue. «On n’a pas le choix d’être ici si on veut être sûr que notre demande passe», a-t-il confié, vers 21h.

Derrière lui, à cette heure-là, neuf autres personnes attendaient rue Notre-Dame, certains sur de petites chaises, d’autres munis de leur sac de couchage.

Depuis janvier 2017, le volume important de demandes de parrainage de réfugiés syriens a forcé le MIDI à arrêter momentanément le programme. Dès aujourd’hui, les demandeurs pourront de nouveau soumettre leur dossier.

Les portes ouvrent ce matin à 8h30. En tout, 750 dossiers de parrainage seront étudiés par le Ministère. Seulement 100 pourront être déposés par des particuliers qui souhaitent parrainer un groupe de deux à cinq personnes. C’est surtout les parrains pour cette catégorie de dossier qui étaient en file hier. «On imagine qu’il va y avoir bien plus que 100 personnes, donc je m’assure de ma place pour que le messager prenne ma place demain», explique une dame, cinquième en ligne, installée dans une chaise pliante.

Stratégie commune

Tous ont la même stratégie : attendre leur messager, qui prendra la relève pour déposer leur dossier. Car aucun dossier remis en mains propres ne sera accepté, les documents devront obligatoirement être déposés par service de messagerie.

«Moi, il est là avec moi déjà», a lancé une femme, pointant l’homme à ses côtés. Elle a payé le messager pour la nuit, afin d’être certaine que sa demande soit parmi les premières déposées.

«Le fait de devoir venir faire la ligne comme ça démontre qu’il n’y a pas assez de place pour les demandes de parrainage», a observé une jeune femme, assise sur son sac de couchage, à côté d’une amie. «Ceux qui n’auront pas notre chance vont devoir attendre une autre année, a-t-elle ajouté. Mais on parle de réfugiés, et beaucoup d’entre eux ne peuvent pas attendre un an.»

«Chacun pour soi»

«Je ne suis vraiment pas confiante, j’ai peur qu’administrativement, ce soit le chaos demain», a avoué une des personnes en ligne. Autour d’elle, plusieurs ont hoché la tête, en signe d’approbation.

Elle a également indiqué craindre un grand désordre à l’ouverture des portes du ministère. «On ne sait pas ce qui va arriver quand la file va s’étendre et qu’il y aura plus de demandes que ce qu’ils vont accepter.»

«Ce que je trouve dommage, c’est que ça nous oblige à être chacun pour soi, pour s’assurer sa place, alors qu’on veut tous aider des gens», ajoute une autre dame, à ses côtés.

Hier soir, les quelques personnes en file ont inscrit leur nom, en ordre sur une feuille, pour avoir une liste de leur ordre d’arrivée. «C’est très informel, on ne sait même pas si ça va être respecté», s’est-elle inquiétée.

«Je pense que le Ministère fait de son mieux, a quant à lui affirmé le premier citoyen dans la file. Mais ça pourrait être mieux organisé, c’est certain, car la demande est vraiment très haute par rapport au nombre de places. Beaucoup de dossiers se sont accumulés depuis l’arrêt du programme.»

Douglas Todd: Trudeau government goes silent on Syrian refugees

To be fair to the government, the Syrian refugee program was set up with better outcome tracking in place, to allow for a higher quality evaluation at the five-year mark. Census 2021 will also provide a good sense of how well Syrian refugees have done, both PSRs and GARs.

I suspect that some of the lack of interim information may reflect the pressures for regular data on asylum seekers; indeed while monthly operational data is updated regularly, quarterly and annual reporting is slower (e.g., quarterly citizenship operational data dates from June 2017):

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election promise to welcome 25,000 refugees from Syria was aimed at showing voters his compassion. The followup photo opportunities he arranged in 2015 with smiling Syrian refugees, such as doctors, drew international headlines.

Once in power, Trudeau’s Liberals switched the name of the Immigration Department to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, to highlight their concern for those forced to leave chaotic home countries, especially Syria.

Given the grand gestures, you would be forgiven for believing the federal Liberals and the department responsible for refugees would be tracking the fate of the tens of the thousands of struggling Syrians that Canada has recently taken in.

But, after more than two weeks of inquiries by Postmedia, a media relations officer acknowledged the department has not produced any report in almost two years on the about 50,000 Syrian refugees now in Canada.

Canada’s auditor general is among the unamused. The Liberals had a plan to monitor whether the mostly Arabic-speaking refugees were learning English, working, receiving social assistance and going to school, but the government has failed to follow through, said auditor general Michael Ferguson. It is Ottawa’s responsibility, he said, to make sure Syrians refugees “integrate into Canadian society.”

The federal Liberals are not following the more transparent approach of Sweden and Germany, which took in the largest numbers of the 2.6 million mostly-Syrian asylum seekers who arrived in Europe in 2015 and 2016. The governments of those countries are providing extensive data on refugee outcomes, in addition to launching waves of job-training programs.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did, to be fair, release a one-year-after report on Syrian refugees in December, 2016. It was moderately helpful, since it showed half the privately sponsored refugees had jobs in Canada. But employment fell to 10 per cent among the larger cohort of “government-assisted” refugees, who are typically less educated and often illiterate.

The early Ottawa report also touched on how, after refugees’ first year in Canada, they are cut off from direct stipends from the federal government.

How have things gone for Syrian refugees in Canada in the almost two years since that lone departmental report? No one really knows. That’s unlike in Sweden and Germany, where refugee programs are increasingly thorny electoral issues.

Sweden has discovered, for instance, that, despite creating hundreds of “fast-track” job-training programs for recent refugees, only one third of those who completed a two-year full-time integration program in 2017 were working or studying three months later.

Refugees in Germany have done a bit better, but three-quarters are working in jobs needing few skills and with poor prospects. Unemployment is exceedingly high.

How is integration going in Canada?

When Postmedia sought answers from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, a media official provided the website of another public-relations official at another department, who recommended contacting Canadian academics, who either didn’t respond, had nothing to say or suggested contacting yet other academics. It’s known as “getting the runaround.” It may eventually bear fruit, but who knows?

One non-governmental source in B.C., however, did have some helpful informal insights about what’s happening in this  province, the destination of about one in 10 Syrian refugees.

Maggie Hosgood, who has helped coordinate more than 100 B.C. United Church congregations that have privately sponsored 65 Syrian families, said most refugees “are doing all right,” with good outcomes for children, especially girls, who attend public schools.

But most refugees, many of whom end up in Burnaby, are struggling to afford housing in hyper-costly Metro Vancouver. In addition, Hosgood estimated roughly one in four Syrian adults are on welfare.

Unlike the highly educated refugees who Trudeau mingles with for photo opportunities, most Syrian refugees have jobs that require few skills, such as cleaners or jobs in shops where they don’t have to speak English.

Many Syrians are struggling to learn English in the classroom, Hosgood said, regretting that the former federal Conservative government did away with a program in which refugees could, at the same time, learn both English and a trade.

There are positive exceptions. Some male refugees are bakers, candy makers or mechanics. One carpenter, Hosgood said, has developed a thriving business, learning English while he works. “He’s got plans.”

As German and Swedish government officials are discovering, Hosgood also confirmed many Middle Eastern “husbands don’t want their wives to work.” They think, she said, the woman should stay at home and the husband should provide for the family.

“The Canada Child Benefit has been a godsend for most families,” Hosgood said, echoing a study suggesting most Syrian parents come with three to four children, sometimes eight or 10. “Big families would be doing very well.”

Syrian mothers and fathers with four children can get about $50,000 a year in various taxpayer-funded social-service benefits. The Canada Child Benefit provides $6,400 a year for each child under six and $5,400 for children between six and 17, while provincial welfare can give about $12,000 a year to each adult.

Hosgood said many of the grateful Syrian refugees, who know how to stretch their money,  are now starting to sponsor relatives to come to Canada.

Integrating refugees into the well-off West requires playing the long game. European countries have found that refugees’ full entry into the taxpaying workforce often doesn’t approach the national average for a couple of decades.

Instead of posturing in photo opportunities, Canada’s governing politicians need to follow Europe and track what is happening on the difficult ground. It’s impossible to create effective integration programs if no one knows what’s working and what’s not.

Source: Douglas Todd: Trudeau government goes silent on Syrian refugees

GUNTER: Liberals play a dangerous game with illegal immigration

Representative of SunMedia commentary, with the canard that Trudeau’s ill-advised old tweet is wholly responsible for the influx, not the Trump policies themselves (and government tweets since then have taken a different turn).

While there is and can be legitimate criticism of the government’s handling of the asylum seekers, no solutions are as easy as claimed. When the Sun Sea arrived in Canadian waters, former Minister Kenney played up the threat to Canada’s system of managed immigration, but most were accepted as asylum seekers.

That being said, given that it does strike many Canadians as queue jumping and the like. The opposition naturally makes this an issue (more care in language and tone needed, however).

Should the apparent recent declining trend in asylum seekers continue (too early to say), that may defuse some of the tension:

Canadians’ tolerance for illegal immigrants is about to be tested as never before.

Around 60 per cent of Canadians in most polls claim to be open to illegal immigration if the refugees now pouring into Quebec are truly oppressed. Indeed, it is this support the Trudeau government seems to be counting on as cover for its refusal to do anything about the 3,000 or more illegal immigrants – many from Haiti, Nigeria and Central America – currently crossing the Quebec border every month.

The federal Liberals think this deluge is a sign of Canada’s magnanimity and multiculturalism. They also think it will win them votes if the refugees are portrayed as asylum seekers from Donald Trump’s mean-spirited America.

While Donald Trump is separating refugee parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border, our hipster PM is signalling a warm welcome to anyone who can arrive at our doorstep.

Our prime minister is tweeting out words of encouragement to illegal immigrants and his government is doing everything it can to resettle asylum seekers quickly, so they slip into Canadian society unnoticed until well after it’s too late to remove them.

But the Liberals are playing a dangerous game, not just politically, but also with the rule of law.

Canadians probably are more tolerant of illegal immigrants than are Americans. But then again, we haven’t had the volume of illegals they have had to contend with.

For nearly 30 years, the estimate of the number of undocumented “aliens” in the States has hovered around 11 million. But given that no one knows with certainty how many come in every year (only how many are thrown out), it is entirely possible the total is closer to 17 million to 20 million.

That would be the equivalent of between 1.7 million and 2.0 million in Canada. But the federal immigration and border agencies estimate there are only about 100,000 illegal immigrants north of the border – or only about five per cent of the number in the U.S.

It’s pretty easy to be morally superior when facing a crisis that is only one-20th the size of your neighbour’s.

However, the RCMP estimate that last year nearly 21,000 people crossed our border illegally seeking asylum. Most had come from the United States, so technically could not be deemed refugees. (If you arrive in Canada from a country that is not threatening your life or your freedom, you cannot be considered a refugee, legally.)

So far this year, at least another 8,000 have walked across our border in Quebec pulling their worldly possessions in suitcases, duffels and cardboard boxes.

The temporary welcome camp Ottawa set up in Quebec can only house fewer than 1,000 asylum seekers at a time.

Ottawa has, therefore, tried to bribe the other provinces with grants to help temporarily settle the rest in college dorms, social housing, emergency shelters, even hotels. But money and patience are running out.

And other provinces and cities are getting wise.

Ontario’s new premier, Doug Ford, recently told Prime Minister Trudeau his province would no longer help settle asylum seekers, to which the PM responded with a smug, sanctimonious lecture on Canada’s refugee obligations.

But like a lot of what Trudeau believes, his lecture was long on virtue-signalling and short on substance.

Canada is not, as Trudeau claimed, required to provide everyone who shows up here with protections equal to those afforded citizens. We must safeguard their lives and freedom, but only if they have arrived from an unsafe country.

(You can get cute, if you want, and insist Trump has made American unsafe, but that’s not true under international refugee treaties.)

The truth is, the Trudeau government has mismanaged the current refugee flow. Badly. And they are going to strain Canadians’ generosity with the torrent they have unleashed.

Source: GUNTER: Liberals play a dangerous game with illegal immigration

Ottawa needs to fix operational problems at beleaguered refugee board, say frustrated staff

Yes, like all administrative processes, there is a need for an assembly line approach, in terms of standards, steps and sequence to be followed, and efficiency (where governments struggle, given administrative and legal constraints, as well as corporate culture).

Like it or not, there are resource constraints and the increase in resources in the budget is in that context. And reorganizations, streamlining, new agencies and the like take time to be developed, considered and implemented.

And yes, metrics are part of sound management:

The influx of migrants crossing the border has turned Canada’s asylum system into an assembly line, exacerbating operational problems and prioritizing targets over the needs of vulnerable people, say front-line staff at the country’s beleaguered refugee board.

Immigration and Refugee Board employees told the Star they are overworked and frustrated by organizational challenges.

They fear changes recently recommended in a government report could make things worse.

“To meet (management) targets, people stop being people and start becoming numbers,” said Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, which represents 550 of the board’s 1,000 employees.

“The morale is really low at the moment. There is (only) so much you can do when you don’t have enough resources to go around. And you hear recommendations from people who don’t know how you operate and miss the bigger, systemic and structural issues that need to get changed to solve our problems.”

Canada’s world-renowned asylum system is coping with a ballooning backlog: since 2016, the number of claims has increased by 241 per cent to 50,000 cases, due largely to an unexpected wave of migrants who have walked across the Canada-U.S. border.

Each asylum judge is now expected to process 150 refugee claims a year. The union has been told that number will increase to 200 in 2019.

Despite Ottawa’s promise in the 2018 budget to hire 50 asylum judges and 185 support staff over the next two years, board staff and refugee advocates say that’s not enough to fix a flawed system.

A recent government report, which recommended ways to restructure, isn’t the answer either, they say.

Various federal departments and agencies share responsibility for the intake, adjudication and removal of refugees, for permanent residency approvals, and for all appeals, but it’s the refugee board, which operates as an independent, arm’s-length body, that grants asylum.

The report, by retired deputy immigration minister Neil Yeates, recommended government either establish a new Asylum System Management Board to co-ordinate and streamline the process or create a new Refugee Protection Agency, which would handle the entire asylum system from intake to adjudication, and would fall under the authority of the immigration minister.

“The Yeates Report proposes massive changes to the system,” said Chris Aylward, national president of Public Service Alliance of Canada, the bargaining agent for 18 federal unions, including that of the board.

“It should have focused on ensuring sufficient and proper resources go to the processing and review of asylum claims instead of proposing a new structure that could threaten the rights of claimants to a fair process.”

The concern, according to Warner, is that restructuring would threaten the independence and transparency of the refugee determination system from real or perceived political interference from Ottawa.

Warner said there have been problems at the refugee board since the late 2000s, when the government of Stephen Harper made massive changes to the system and was slow to appoint refugee judges.

“The changes (by the Conservatives) were too extreme; we went from a country that was welcoming to one that was hurry-up-and-leave,” said Warner, who worked as a registry support staffer at the refugee board in Vancouver for 10 years before being elected national executive vice-president of the union.

Among the major flaws of Harper’s reforms, Warner said, were:

  • The elimination of tribunal officers who were charged with: the screening and triage of files; liaising with and answering inquiries from officials, claimants and lawyers; administering cases returned by courts, and providing hearing room support to decision-makers, who now must perform some of the duties on their own.
  • The imposition of statutory timelines to hear asylum claims within 60 days without taking into account the practicality of having a claimant secure a lawyer and legal aid, prepare a narrative, collect documents and evidence, and obtain medical and security clearances within the time frame.
  • Splitting the administration of the refugee protection tribunal from that of other board functions, which created a less flexible organizational structure unable to respond easily to changing operational needs.

“Cumulatively, such administrative tasks represent an astonishing burden, distraction and waste of adjudicator time and expertise,” said one refugee judge, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions. “Yet it is a deliberate construct that continues under the leadership of the board and remains a stark, systemic management failing.”

Compounding the structural problems are shuttered hearing rooms, antiquated dictation software and failed video conference equipment, all of which cause further delays, said Warner.

“Trying to book a hearing room can become World War III between all these divisions within the refugee board,” noted Warner, who added that board policy still requires paper, not electronic, files.

“We can’t receive refugee claimants’ files, documents from lawyers and minister’s counsel by email. They must be received via regular mail or fax. You can imagine in 2018, what a ridiculous thing this is. It prolongs everything on case management.”

While the policy goal is to process 90 per cent of claimants within regulated timelines, the refugee board has never met this target: last year, for example, only 59 per cent of the cases were completed on time.

A veteran case manager at the refugee board said her colleagues are overwhelmed by the workload, but are committed to their jobs in offering asylum to those in need of Canada’s protection while maintaining the integrity of the country’s refugee system.

“We need to have more adjudicative support provided to the members. We need to move away from using metrics as a way of measuring productivity. We need enough hearing rooms. We need to allow people to leave work behind and not feel obligated to take their work home,” said the case manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to media.

“We need all of these things so that we can retain the compassion that we all have for the clients we serve.”

Source: Ottawa needs to fix operational problems at beleaguered refugee board, say frustrated staff