Refugee Rights Day panel to explore refugee policy in Canada

York University will mark Refugee Rights Day 2017 with a special panel on contemporary refugee policy in Canada on Tuesday, April 4 at the Keele campus.

This event, running from 12:15 to 2pm and titled “Refugees Welcome or Excluded Here?”, will mark the 1985 Supreme Court Singh decision that recognized the Charter rights of refugee claimants in Canada, and address the question of whether we are currently witnessing a period of greater inclusion or exclusion towards refugees in Canada in several policy areas.

Humaima Ashfaque

The panel, which is open to the public and includes a light lunch for those who RSVP, will consider Canada’s policy directions in a North American and global context, as well as the record of Canada’s Liberal government a year and a half into their mandate. Humaima Ashfaque, student project ambassador for York’s Syria Response & Refugee Initiative and one of the organizers of the York community’s Refugees Welcome Here! campaign, will present on student efforts to make York and the wider community more welcoming to refugees.

Jennifer Hyndman, one of the panellists and director of York’s Centre for Refugee Studies, says it is important to have this conversation both within Canada and globally.

“Refugee rights remain a pressing issue across the globe, as new nationalist movements target newcomers as security threats,” she said. “In Canada, with people walking across our borders to seek asylum this month, refugee rights are as salient and important as ever.”

Her presentation will focus on Canada’s overseas resettlement programs.

Francisco Rico-Martinez

Francisco Rico-Martinez, a panellist at the event and co-director of the FCJ Refugee Centre, will discuss the treatment of refugees seeking and claiming protection within Canada, and will highlight his disappointment in the current government’s approach. Rico-Martinez is a former president of the Canadian Council for Refugees and recipient of the City of Toronto’s William P. Hubbard Race Relations Award.

“Eighteen months ago, the new government began its time in office by changing the name of the ministry to that of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship,” he said. ”While this was symbolically important, 18 months later inland refugee claimants have been forgotten. We have witnessed few positive changes for them.”

Sean Rehaag

The third refugee policy expert on the panel is award-winning Professor Sean Rehaag of Osgoode Hall Law School, who specializes in immigration and refugee law, human rights and legal process. His talk will focus on the dynamics of Canadian refugee policy as it relates to the Canada-U.S. border and the Safe Third Country Agreement, particularly evolving dynamics with respect to Donald Trump’s presidency and executive orders.

Rehaag frequently contributes to public debates about immigration and refugee law, and engages in law reform efforts in these areas. In 2012, he received the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers Advocacy Award for outstanding achievement in advocacy on behalf of refugees.

Attendees of the panel discussion will also be invited to support a fundraising effort to pay off the government-issued transportation loans of two WUSC Keele Committee-sponsored refugee students, a policy area about which the YU Refugees Welcome Here! campaign has sought to raise awareness.

”Students across different Faculties, programs and colleges have joined hands to make sure that diversity on campus remains and to send out a magnifying voice that ‘refugees are welcome,’ ” said Ashfaque.

As part of those efforts, she said students on campus have been working to ensure that people are aware of the rights of refugees and policies that affect them. They have been working to put pressure on the government to remove transportation loans from refugees that often have great difficulty repaying them.

The Refugee Rights Day panel is organized by John Carlaw, project lead of the York U Syria Response & Refugee Initiative and the Centre for Refugee Studies. It is co-sponsored by McLaughlin College and Amnesty International at York. This event is also part of Refugee Rights Month in the city of Toronto, a month-long series of activities organized by a coalition of organizations motivated to promote refugee rights. A list of activities for the month can be found on their website.

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