ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for the Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism at an event to celebrate World Refugee Day

Ottawa, Ontario, June 20, 2011

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Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I am pleased to be here today to recognize World Refugee Day.

Today allows us to recognize the courage of the millions of refugees and displaced persons around the world.

It also allows us to recognize Canada’s history of providing refuge to those in need of protection from tyranny, violent oppression and persecution.  

Canada’s history as a place of refuge dates back to when 3,000 Black Loyalists, freemen and slaves among them, fled the oppression of the American Revolution.

In 1789, Lord Dorchester, the Governor-in-Chief of British North America, gave official recognition to the “First Loyalists” who settled in Nova Scotia and Quebec.

These refugees helped build Upper Canada, which became the first province in the British Empire to provide refuge for thousands of black slaves with the aid of the Underground Railroad.

In the 1800s, Polish refugees came to Canada to escape Russian oppression, and Jews fled Czarist pogroms. Towards the end of the 19th century, the first major migration of Ukrainians began with the arrival of 170,000, most of them seeking refuge in Canada after fleeing oppression in areas under Austro-Hungarian rule.

When the Soviets invaded Hungary in 1956, Canada welcomed more than 37,000 Hungarian refugees who escaped Soviet tyranny. We did the same for 11,000 Czechs who managed to escape the Soviet and Warsaw Pact Communist invasion in 1968.  

In the 1970s, Canada provided refuge to Chinese refugees who fled the Communist violence of the Cultural Revolution, and to Tibetans who fled after the Chinese occupation of their homeland. We did the same for more than 60,000 Vietnamese who sought our protection following the Communist victory in the Vietnam War.

Ladies and gentlemen, Canada has a long history of providing protection to those who need it. Since World War II, Canadians have provided refuge to over 1 million refugees.

As a Canadian, I am proud of this compassionate tradition of ours. And today, we continue this proud tradition.

Last year alone, we resettled more than 12,000 refugees from abroad, and another 12,300 people were granted protection through the Asylum Program.

We have already welcomed more than 2,300 Bhutanese refugees in several communities across Canada, and we plan to resettle up to 5,000 Bhutanese refugees from Nepal over the next few years. In addition, we have almost completed the resettlement of over 3,900 Karen from Thailand.

In the coming years, I’m proud that Canada will do even more to help. As part of our reforms to our refugee protection system, the Government of Canada will open our doors even wider to resettle refugees, and we will increase the total number each year by 20 percent. This means that up to 500 more government-assisted refugees, and 2,000 more privately-sponsored refugees will find refuge in Canada.

As Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, I have had the privilege of meeting hundreds of former refugees across Canada. And I have been moved by their stories….how they lived in fear for their lives every day, their struggle and long path to flee brutal regimes or violent persecution, and their narrow escape.

I have also been moved by their stories about freedom, about how they can now live free from fear, and about how fortunate they are to have found a place they can truly call home.

Take, for example, Alexis Musanganya’s story. Alexis was born and raised in Rwanda, but was forced to flee in 1994 when brutal violence broke out.

His path to Canada was far from easy, and paved with many obstacles along the way. He walked hundreds of miles, starting in Kigali and walking to Butare, then Zaire before boarding a train in Zambia. After many trains, bus and plane rides, Alexis finally arrived in Canada in 1998 at the age of 24.

He has since obtained a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2002. In that same year, he also became a Canadian citizen. Alexis is also a leader in his community. In 2004 he founded Arc en ciel d’Afrique, a community organization in Quebec that helps educate the Afro-Carribean community on the issue of homosexuality.

As you can see beside me, today I’m pleased to launch a new refugee exhibit that will showcase the stories of refugees like Alexis, and help raise awareness about our refugee program. This exhibit will travel across Canada this summer, and will be displayed at libraries and UNESCO sites in various communities.

I am also proud to launch a new video that features a refugee camp in Nairobi. This video provides an insightful look into the challenges that refugees face on a daily basis, while they wait to be sponsored or resettled.

It is our hope that this exhibit and video will help increase awareness and about the plight of refugees, and that they will educate Canadians about why our refugee program is so important.  

I encourage everyone to visit the travelling refugee exhibit when it comes to your community, and to visit YouTube or Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s website to access the video.

For all of you who play a role in helping resettle refugees, I want to thank you for helping Canada provide refuge to those fleeing persecution from around the world.

And thank you for joining us today on World Refugee Day.

Thank you.


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