ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

At the ministerial event commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness
Geneva, Switzerland, December 7, 2011

As delivered

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

On behalf of the Government of Canada, I’m delighted to commemorate 60 years of the UNHCR’s work to assist the world’s persecuted. Canada has a proud tradition of being a place of refuge, and has a long history with refugees − from the American revolutionary war which populated Canada, to escaped slaves who came north on the underground railroad, to Hungarian, Czech, and Vietnamese refugees who fled communist oppression.

In fact, Canada has welcomed over a million refugees since WWII and we pledge to continue that proud tradition.

Canada currently receives one out of every 10 resettled refugee from around the world and we’re proud to be the seventh largest donor to the good work of the UNHCR, contributing over $50 million this year.

To commemorate this anniversary year and our collective achievements, Canada will commit to further concrete actions in order to provide protection to those in need.

We pledge to increase the number of refugees we resettle by 20%.

Last year, Canada made a commitment to resettle 20,000 Iraqi refugees by 2013 and we now pledge to go beyond that. We pledge to continue our Iraqi resettlement efforts in the Middle East region through 2015.

Canada recognizes that resettlement can be a key response in support of international humanitarian efforts when crises occur. To that end, I’m pleased that Canada will pledge a portion of our resettlement spaces for each of the next five years, as part of an international pool for emergency situations. Canada will pledge 200 spaces each year, which represents 10 percent of the UNHCR’s request for additional spaces for urgent crises.

Canada is committed to providing protection to those who need it most, and we also pledge to use the flexibility in our resettlement program to respond to the protection needs of women and girls.

To underscore this commitment, Canada will resettle 40 victims of sexual violence in Haiti and their dependents, identified by the UNHCR, as being in need of protection.

Whether on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, or religious belief, it is our collective duty to uphold the rights of the world’s most vulnerable. Regrettably, minorities are all-too-often subjected to persecution, oppression and violence.

To help combat the persecution of religious minorities, I’m pleased to reaffirm Canada’s commitment to create an Office of Religious Freedom. The office will advocate for the protection of religious minorities and promote the pluralism that is essential to the development of free and democratic societies.

In addition, Canada pledges to continue to resettle religious minorities and victims of persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation, including those from Iran who have fled to Turkey. We will also continue our efforts to assist highly vulnerable persecuted populations including traditional refugees, internally displaced persons, women and children.

Next year Canada will make significant reforms to our asylum system to make it more efficient, but also to add an additional level of procedural fairness creating a new fact-based appeal for failed asylum claimants.

We must all however, work together to combat the scourge of human smuggling which risks the lives of too many migrants, and we must also work together to address organized abuse of national asylum systems.

Canada finds it disturbing that we receive more asylum claimants from democratic European countries than we do from Africa or Asia. We must work together with our partners through the UNHCR to address such flows.

Canada recognizes that our common goals of ensuring protection and durable solutions are often most effectively achieved through a strong UNHCR that is focused on delivering results.

We commend the agency for its reform efforts to date which are contributing to greater efficiencies and encourage the UNHCR to continue its work in this area.

In closing, I would like to pay tribute to the dedicated staff of the UNHCR and its partners whose contributions most directly impact the lives of the world’s forcibly displaced.

Thank you.

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