Home » Stand up for refugees, stand up for rightsNews »

Stand up for refugees, stand up for rights

The recent enthusiasm in Canada for the refugee cause shows how each of us can stand up for the rights of others.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Syrian refugees upon arrival in Canada in late 2015. Adam Scotti photograph courtesy of the PMO

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Syrian refugees upon arrival in Canada in late 2015. Adam Scotti photograph courtesy of the PMO

OTTAWA—On Dec. 10, the world marked International Human Rights Day. This is the time to raise awareness globally of the critical importance of the body of fundamental human rights norms that build resilient, and just, communities. It is a day to honour human rights defenders. And it is a time to commemorate the victims of the widespread and systematic violations of human rights in too many countries, inflicted not only by states but also by armed militia or opposition groups.

This year we were asked to “stand up for someone’s rights today.” This is how we build a more peaceful and just world. This global call to action asked us to take care of one another. This requires solidarity and empathy, as well as commitment and involvement with and for each other.

Canada has built and continues to build, through a succession of waves of immigration, the capacity and necessity for respect for each other’s rights. Canadian governments have espoused the principles of inclusion and diversity. This is particularly important for migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and victims of war, terrorism, or other forms of organized crime. For those who have found in Canada a safe haven, the body of international and regional human rights and refugee law instruments and adherence to them are the foundation of the protection they should receive.

As we celebrate the anniversary of the first arrivals of 25,000 Syrian refugees brought to Canada through the efforts of both the government and the Canadian people, Canadians have shown the world their serious efforts to be welcoming. Impressively, in a world increasingly less welcome, Canada has also resettled thousands of other refugees, including additional Syrian refugees, making 2016 a record year for Canada in providing refugees with resettlement.

The enthusiasm of citizens, professionals, co-workers, local associations, and faith-based groups, among others, for the refugee cause is a shining example how each of us can stand up for the rights of others. The government’s political commitment to ensure the arrival of a significantly increased number of resettled refugees has been an equally important tangible expression of the protection of the human rights of those forcibly displaced. Canada’s actions have also marked a most welcome token of solidarity with the countries hosting millions of refugees, by helping to alleviate the pressure.

Yet, with the unprecedented levels of forced displacement in today’s world—more than 65.3 million people are on the move—the world needs to do more.

We need to address the root causes of the various forms of displacement. We need to help protect those in need and to make refugees agents for change and development in their new homes. The world needs to invest in solutions for refugees and internally displaced people by creating conditions conducive to safe and dignified return. Importantly for the international community, we need to offer protection and a safe haven to the close to 1.2 million refugees who are today in critical need of resettlement.

Canada, in seeing the strength of its capacity to welcome, can continue to make a place in its communities for more refugees of all nationalities who seek to re-obtain the rights taken away from them and contribute to their new home.

In too many corners of the world refugees are no longer welcomed, or only in much smaller numbers. The international community looks to Canada to continue to play a lead role in preserving the institution of asylum, in providing generous resettlement targets and, in doing so, strengthen the governance of the global refugee system.

The Canadian model of private sponsorship should be further strengthened domestically and promoted and introduced in other countries, as it has proven to be an innovative and community-building avenue for civil society and communities to actively contribute to refugee protection.

On Sept. 19, the UN General Assembly adopted a set of commitments now known as the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in which countries, including Canada, expressed profound solidarity with those who are forced to flee their homes; reaffirmed their obligations to fully respect the human rights of refugees and migrants; pledged robust support to those countries affected by large movements of refugees and migrants; and agreed to work towards the adoption of a global compact on refugees and a global compact for safe, orderly, and regular migration.

The commitment to improve refugee protection and the pursuit of solutions for refugees was welcomed by all UN agencies and local partners, including the UN Association in Canada.

We are now looking forward to the implementation of the commitments made and continue to encourage Canada to be at the forefront of humanitarian action for all those in desperate need, as it showed the world it would for so many Syrian refugees.

It’s time to scale up efforts and reaffirm our humanity by helping those most in need.

In the words of the Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights, on the occasion of 2016 International Human Rights Day: “Ultimately, human rights are for everyone, and everyone will be affected if we do not fight to preserve them. They took decades of tireless effort by countless committed individuals to establish, but—as we have seen all too clearly in recent months—they are fragile. If we do not defend them, we will lose them.”

Let that not become a reality. Let human rights be ever stronger protected, in Canada and in the world.

Kathryn White is president and CEO of the United Nations Association in Canada. Johannes van der Klaauw is the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) representative in Canada.

Article originally posted on hilltimes.com.