Unifor joins people of goodwill everywhere on June 20, 2020 in recognizing the humanitarian crisis faced by the world’s 70.8 million refugees. In the two decades since the proclamation in 2000 by the United Nations of World Refugee Day, the numbers of refugees and their social conditions have worsened. Displaced from their homes by genocide, war, civil conflict, natural and environmental disasters, and the climate crisis, refugees face daily extreme dangers in their journeys to safety, and in the desperate, unhygienic and socially unacceptable conditions in the camps where tens of millions are trapped.
We reject the excuse that the refugee crisis is insolvable, when in fact the majority of refugees are intentionally displaced by state sponsored violence and repression. An estimated 5.6 million Syrian refugees are in camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, while civil strife and state repression continues in Syria. More than one million Rohingya refugees are internally displaced in camps in Bangladesh still denied citizenship rights in Myanmar. Perhaps the most long-standing forcibly displaced refugees are the millions of Palestinians in camps in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan facing discrimination and often unable to work while the international commitment to a Palestinian state remains unfulfilled.
The political roots of the refugee crisis can and must be resolved, but there is a greater urgency to immediately increase resources to address the health and social conditions of refugees. These conditions are now made more dramatic by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the words of Abu Abdallah, a Syrian refugee in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, “Coronavirus is worse than war because during war you know who your enemy is. But now you don’t know where the disease is going to come from, from the air or from a person.” Social distancing for refugees is virtually impossible with population density in refugee camps of up to 20 times greater than New York City, one of the global epicenters of the pandemic. In the Moria refugee camp in Greece, the largest refugee camp in Europe, there are 20,000 people in a space with a maximum capacity for 2,700. The Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh is the largest refugee settlement in the world according to UNHCR, with more than 600,000 refugees.
Refugees are the human consequences and legacy of colonialism and militarism, and the rising inequality, institutionalized racism and unsustainability of global capitalism. On this day, we call out the systemic roots of the refugee crisis and demand that Canada and the wealthy developed countries vastly increase their commitments to meet the 2030 Agenda UN sustainable development goals “that no one will be left behind.” For refugees and internally displaced persons, these goals require each country to make the inclusion of refugees and displaced persons an integral part of their own national development plans.
Unifor reaffirms its commitments set out in its 2016 Policy on Refugees, which declares, “A fair, inclusive and welcoming refugee policy is an expression of the best of Canadian values and is an extension of the social solidarity that unites the Canadian labour movement.” This policy is well aligned with the UNHRC Agenda to make the refugee crisis a component of national social policy. Among other measures, Unifor demands these provisions for refugees:
- No exclusion or discrimination of any class of refugee claimant on the basis of country of origin, race, gender, age, religion, language, physical abilities, economic status, sexuality or political affiliation;
- Recognition that it is the government’s primary responsibility for sponsorship of refugees;
- Right to the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, due process and right of appeal regardless of whether the refugee makes application from within the country or from a third country;
- Facilitation of family reunification by Immigration Canada for family members who do not qualify for convention or UNHCR designation;
- The right to work as soon as possible after arrival in Canada, and permit participation in EI, CPP, Workers Compensation and any other legal regime related to employment;
- Work permits which allow a worker to remain employed until the refugee claim has been finally determined;
- Entitlement to health and social services;
- Funding of community settlement organizations and of programs offering language training; and
- The provision of refugee resettlement programs involving Canadian trade unions as program partners and private sponsors to assist integration into the work force and to provide advocacy services for refugee workers
Unifor has spoken out on refugee issues and provided funding and support to Medicin Sans Frontiers work on behalf of Rohingya refugees, provided funding and support to multiple UNHRC refugee projects, notably in Syria, Jordan and Brazil, and Unifor and member volunteers have sponsored five Syrian families to resettle in Canada.
On World Refugee Day 2020, Unifor commits to do more and to make solidarity with the millions of displaced persons and migrants a core component of our work and struggle as trade unionists.
We call on the Canadian government to also make new and bold commitments to respond to the global refugee crisis by substantially increasing support to the UNHRC to improve the social conditions for refugees and by welcoming a larger number of refugees to Canada.