Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Canada Mark World Day for Migrants and Refugees
Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada and around the world have spent many years working and forming relationships with migrants, refugees, and trafficked persons. In that time, we’ve learned much about the gift of each person’s life, the hardships they’ve endured, the exploitation they’ve encountered, and the strength with which they begin to make a new life for themselves.
According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, one person is forcibly displaced every two seconds. An estimated 70.8 million people are now forcibly displaced from their home by conflict, persecution, natural disasters (some of which are linked to the climate emergency) and severe economic exclusion. Their journeys are filled with risks, threats, exploitation and violence. And, as a small percentage make their way to Canada, they open our eyes to what’s happening beyond our borders.
As a nation, we’ve had a complex, shifting relationship with these global struggles and the people impacted by them. At times we’re disengaged as we watch tragedies unfold on the television; other times we hear personal stories of survival and find our compassion. At times we’re smug in the realization that we don’t have to deal with the same level of violence in our land; other times we’re horrified with local eruptions of racism, xenophobia and hate crimes. At times we’re generous in reaching out to newly-arrived refugee families; other times we become hardened when it seems we might need to change. At times we celebrate our national diversity; other times we worry newcomers aren’t integrating well enough into the mainstream. It’s a struggle of conscience, a struggle for our collective soul, and we’d do well to pay attention to our shifting responses.
In his 2019 letter marking the September 29th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis laments the “globalization of indifference” and highlights migrants, refugees, displaced and trafficked persons as “emblems of exclusion.” His call urges us to reflect critically on our response to people in precarious situations and puts the spotlight on the harmful social, political and economic structures which result from collective indifference.
We have too easily ignored our complicity in creating the factors which lead to forced displacement, be it natural disasters related to the climate emergency (to which, per capita, we are some of the highest contributors), the sale of armoured vehicles to oppressive countries, or a refusal to meet our agreed-upon financial responsibilities for international development. We have overlooked the way temporary work permits for migrant workers makes them more vulnerable to exploitation, unsafe working conditions, inadequate housing, sexual abuse and unfair pay. We have created structural discrimination through policies which reduce migrant access to health care, legal services, and educational opportunities.
To move beyond this indifference as a nation, we call on the Government of Canada to:
Sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, a critical tool in the protection of the rights of all migrant workers.
Stop all subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and increase support for alternative energy development in order to respond more urgently to the climate emergency which is already contributing to the devastation of communities and forced displacement people.
End the immigration detention of children.
Enable faster family reunification for refugees and live-in caregivers
Create a clear path to permanent residency for migrant workers and work with the provinces to strengthen labour protections for all.
Migration issues are complex and multifaceted but the need to respond with policies of compassion and justice is clear. Global solidarity deepens our humanity and helps to create a world in which everyone has an opportunity to flourish.