Speaking Notes for the Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Announcement related to new initiatives to help Canada assist even more refugees

Speech

Announcement related to new initiatives to help Canada assist even more refugees
Ottawa, Ontario
June 18, 2021

As delivered

Good afternoon. Bon après-midi. Kwai. First, I wish to acknowledge that I am joining you from the traditional territory of the Algonquin Annishnaabe people.

Thank you all for joining us in advance of World Refugee Day, which will be this Sunday. I also want to take a moment to welcome Rema Jamous, UNHCR’s Representative in Canada, who is an outstanding community leader and a partner to the government.

I also want to introduce a number of distinguished guests who are joining us virtually. We have Ms. Lisa Smith, who works at the Glen Haven long-term care facility in Nova Scotia. We also have Khodor Ramlawi, who is also employed there, and finally, we have Mohammed Hakmi, who himself is refugee and one of the beneficiaries of one of the programs I’m going to touch on today.

At this very moment, more than 80 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict or/and persecution. From the Middle East to Venezuela to Bangladesh, the world is facing a refugee crisis.

In light of the current situation, there is an enormous need to help refugees, but it has never been so complicated to do so. When the pandemic landed on our shores more than a year ago, global migration was upended. The entire resettlement system was forced into operating at a reduced capacity due to travel restrictions and health protocols that have been effective at managing the pandemic.

As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and my good friend, Filippo Grandi, said earlier today, "COVID-19 stopped so much, but it did not stop war. It did not stop discrimination, and the violence continued."

Yet, despite the numerous challenges posed by the pandemic, Canada has never closed its doors. We have continued to safely welcome refugees to our country, including many who faced extreme situations or whose lives were at risk.

In 2020, we welcomed nearly half of all refugees resettled in the world. And as the High Commissioner for Refugees recently called Canada, "A bright light in a horrible year for refugee resettlement." This light shines thanks to the generosity of Canadians, who played a key role in welcoming refugees into their communities.

This speaks to who we are as Canadians, which is open, compassionate, and generous. People from all corners of the globe have sought refuge in Canada, from Poles and Ukrainians in the 19th century, to Chilean dissidents in the 1970s, to the over 73,000 Syrian refugees who have started the next chapter of their lives here in Canada.

All of this is only possible because Canadians give of themselves in every possible way imaginable. I think of people like Jim Astele de Guelf (phonetic) in Ontario, who every year personally has over [unintelligible] families, including many who still work for his business.

But I’m also thinking about the countless individuals and groups who welcome refugees from across the country. From faith communities, who sponsor families, to neighbours who help to feed them and support them in their journey of integration. But there’s another reason that Canada’s light shines brightly, and that is the contributions of refugees themselves. In so many ways, we’ve seen refugees give back to their new communities and their countries even during the pandemic.

We are talking about what Canada offers refugees, but it is equally important to acknowledge what refugees contribute to Canada. The social, cultural and economic contributions of refugees are enormous. So many refugees have gone on to do incredible things for Canada, from athletes like Alfonzo Davies, who is competing right now, to jurists like Justice Rosalie Abella, to artists like Inan.

But we see the contributions and the selflessness of refugees in our communities right across Canada. Take Christian Bseliss , a 26-year-old Syrian refugee who came to New Market, Ontario just a few years ago. When COVID-19 hit, our supply of personal protective equipment was extremely limited, and it seemed that the entire world was trying to [unintelligible]. Christian said that he was sorry to hear that (inaudible) workers were at risk because of a lack of PPE, and he launched that initiative.

Christian asked his employer if he could use their 3-D printers and he did so to make face shields for our frontline workers. And this helped to found the Ontario Personal Protective Equipment Coalition, a group of people working literally 24 hours right around the clock to produce PPE for our frontline workers.

He said, "In Canada the term refugee never stopped me from doing anything." What’s so incredible about Christian’s story is how I’ve heard it repeated across the country over the past year and a half. From taking care of our seniors, to putting food on our tables, refugees have made incredible contributions to Canada’s fight against COVID-19.

It’s because of these examples, what refugees have to give back, to offer, that we should all be motivated to do more. So, today, I am pleased to be able to highlight several important measures that the Government of Canada is taking to strengthen refugee protection and integration.

The initiatives and the progress that I’m about to highlight will help Canada offer asylum to more people who need it, welcome more refugees through new channels, and to improve support to those welcomed through community sponsorship. Firstly I want to share with you how we are going to build on the success of our Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot.

Launched in 2018, the EMPP recognizes the talents and the skills and the experience of refugees by welcoming them through economic immigration streams. Not only does the EMPP make it possible for Canada to resettle more refugees, but it also requires [unintelligible] they contribute to our country. I would like to thank our Canadian partners, Refugee Point and Talent Beyond Boundaries for their excellent work and their help in carrying out this project.

The first phase of the EMPP has been a success, and now we’re building on it with new measures to simplify and expand it to its second phase.

Today, as part of Phase 2 of the EMPP, I am pleased to announce new measures for eliminating the obstacles refugees face on their path and for levelling the playing field. We intend to accelerate the processing of EMPP applications through the Provincial Nominee Program, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, and the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot.

We’ll be streamlining our processes, making sure that there’s more flexibility with regards to their job qualifications, waiving fees, making it easier for them to get medical coverage, and also ensuring that they are well set up for success when they arrive.

Through these various measures, we plan to admit some 500 refugees through our economic pathways over the next two years. These individuals will be able to plan for a more secure future.

Second I want to talk to you about the work that we are doing with regards to protected persons here in Canada. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, in Canada we’ve been able to provide refuge to thousands of asylum claimants. We are now building on this success by increasing the number of protected persons we will welcome this year from 23,500 to 45,000.

These are individuals who are in Canada, have been adjudicated by the Immigration Refugee and Tribunal Board to have refugee status, and who now will get protected person status. And I’m also pleased to report that of that new enhanced goal, we have already extended protected person status to 17,900. Good progress indeed.

We will also accelerate the processing of applications, which means that more protected persons will be able to quickly become permanent residents and integrate into their communities.

And finally, I’d like to talk about private sponsorship of our refugees. And here let me just take a moment to express my profound gratitude to the Canadians, the faith communities, the Civil Society, our advocates, our resettlement—settlement service partners, all of whom do extraordinary work in welcoming refugees and helping them get set up for success.

What began as a response to the Indochina refugee crisis of the 1970s has blossomed into a wonderful initiative that’s helped over 350,000 refugees to start new lives in Canada. This program is now being emulated all around the world from the UK to New Zealand to the Netherlands.

Aware of the success and the significance of the program, IRCC issued a national call for proposals in January this year to help the sector develop tools in support of private sponsorship. In the wake of this process, I am pleased to announce that up to $3 million over two years will be allocated to nine organizations.

And with announcement, I’m pleased to highlight that our partners will include the Citee Collage here in Ottawa, the Rainbow Refugee Coalition, who does enormous work for us with the LGBTQ 2 community and many more.

This World Refugee Day, we celebrate the strength and courage of individuals who were forced to flee their countries of origin to escape threats against them or their families. I wish to underline that in a world where borders are closed, we must [unintelligible] and consider what we can do to better protect individuals who are among the world’s most vulnerable.

This has never been simple or easy work, and it has never been easy. But Canadians know and share in the responsibility and do the work. On this World Refugee Day, I pledge to you that Canada will continue to do its part. Canada has and will continue to be a global leader when it comes to resettling refugees and protecting the world’s most vulnerable. And we do that work in conjunction with so many partners, including my friend Rema.

Thank you

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