By: Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa
As a Vancouver society working to support refugees fears closure after being denied federal funding, a similar organization in Manitoba said Ottawa approached it to talk about providing funding earlier this year.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the government needs to provide consistent support as increasing numbers of people claiming refugee status cross the U.S. border.
“That’s extremely disturbing,” Kwan said of the situation. “There needs to be consistency and fairness on the approach and they need to recognize their responsibility on this.”
The Tyee reported Thursday on the possible closure of the Inland Refugee Society of BC, which has been overwhelmed by a wave of refugee claimants crossing into British Columbia from the U.S., many avoiding official border crossings.
The number of people seeking support has more than doubled, executive director Mario Ayala said, and the society’s annual funding has been exhausted already.
In the first five months of this year, the society has helped 700 undocumented refugee claimants find shelter. Ayala said if the organization closes, Metro Vancouver could see a spike in homeless refugees.
The federal government has said it will not pitch in to close the funding gap, saying the undocumented asylum-seekers Ayala’s organization is helping don’t qualify for federal assistance.
The B.C. government has also turned down the organization, he said.
Ayala said Marta Morgan, the deputy minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said part of the reason the society wouldn’t receive funding is because the federal government “can’t be seen” to be helping undocumented refugees.
Department spokesperson Nancy Chan said it does not comment on private conversations.
Canada recognizes two broad classes of refugees: people who apply for asylum in another country before being accepted; and those who apply once in Canada, often referred to as undocumented refugees because they have not been vetted before arrival.
Refugee claimants arriving from the U.S. can be turned away at official border crossings because Canada recognizes it as a safe country for those seeking asylum.
As a result, an increasing number of asylum seekers have been crossing the U.S.-Canadian border between official points of entry to claim refugee status.
Kwan said Canada has signed international agreements to recognize refugees who make a claim once in the country, and shouldn’t abandon them.
“If the government is taking the position to say ‘no, we can’t be seen to be supporting these refugee claimants,’ then that is very troubling,” she said.
But while the B.C. society was told the government wouldn’t provide help for such refugee claimants, the head of a Manitoba organization offering the same services said Ottawa actually approached asking them to submit a funding request.
The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council helps refugees find temporary shelter and settlement services and has assisted 618 people this year.
Executive director Rita Chahal said the government asked her several months ago what kind of support the organization needs.
“I was approached by a couple of project officers to submit a budget, which we did,” Chahal said. “No one has followed up on it, no one has contacted us to see if they reviewed it and what their position might be.”
Chahal said the federal government has always held the position that it would not help undocumented refugees.
Despite the request for a funding proposal, Chahal said she isn’t expecting any money.
She said the Manitoba government helps her organization’s efforts with $110,000 per year in funding. The council also raises money from other donors.
The Manitoba Ministry of Education and Training, citing a June 13 byelection, said it couldn’t comment on the decision to fund the council.
But a press release in February quoted Manitoba Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister.
“Just as we have opened our arms to newcomers for centuries, our province continues to provide significant supports to those organizations offering direct services to refugee claimants,” Pallister said. “Our focus remains on measures that will ensure both the welfare of refugee claimants and the continued safety and security of residents of border towns.”
Kwan said the federal government can’t encourage one society struggling with lack of money to apply for funding while telling another there’s no chance of getting help.
She said she’s worried a wave of homeless refugees will be forced to the streets of Vancouver if someone doesn’t step up with support.
Republished with permission from The Tyee.
by Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa
The federal New Democrats are demanding action from Ottawa after hearing the Chinese government is refusing to recognize Canadian citizenship when granting visas to those with roots in Hong Kong or Mainland China.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said she is sending a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion after speaking to travel agents in Toronto and Vancouver who report Beijing is denying Canadian citizens of Chinese origin the right to obtain visas using their Canadian passports.
Instead, they are reportedly being issued travel documents as Chinese nationals, which means they won't have the protection of the Canadian embassy while travelling in China.
Kwan said until June 2, Canadian citizens born in Hong Kong or Mainland China could choose to travel as Chinese nationals or Canadian citizens. Now Beijing is apparently forcing them to travel as Chinese nationals.
"It's a major shift in practice from what it used to be and is of big concern to people," she said.
Even Canadian citizens born here to Chinese parents must apply for Chinese travel documents if they have not travelled to the country as Canadians before, Kwan said.
One Toronto travel agent, who spoke to The Tyee on the condition of anonymity, said his company arranges visas for visitors to Mainland China. Applications have been denied for people born in Hong Kong, Mainland China, or Taiwan, the agent said. The Beijing government has also denied visas to Canadian-born children of Chinese origin parents, he said.
The rejections have come with notes directing the applicants to go to a Chinese consulate in person to apply for travel documents.
Many people have opted to cancel their trips to China rather than travel as Chinese nationals, said the agent.
China expert Charles Burton, a professor at Brock University, said the move appears to be part of Beijing's attempt to tighten control globally to mute dissent against the ruling regime.
Burton pointed to a recent case of a Hong Kong bookseller with a Swedish passport who was arrested in Thailand and sent to China for "interrogation" as an example of Beijing's actions.
He said the reported policy would be in line with China's policy of considering anyone with Chinese heritage as subject to Beijing's authority.
"I think it does have a chilling effect on people of Chinese origin who felt that acquisition of foreign citizenship gave them a degree of protection," Burton said. "It goes against international law; it's part and parcel of China's refusal to acknowledge the authority of international regimes in general."
He said the policy could be considered discrimination because Beijing is issuing visas based solely on people's ethnicity.
Burton said Canada must raise the issue with China at the highest levels.
The revelations come four weeks after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had a tantrumwhen a Canadian reporter in Ottawa asked him about China's detention of Canadian citizen Kevin Garratt, aggressive moves in the South China Sea, and the disappearances of merchants in Hong Kong selling books critical of the Chinese government.
Following the outburst Ottawa faced criticism for its declaration of plans to deepen ties with China.
Global Affairs Canada said it was aware of the visa situation and intends to raise the issue with Beijing, but would not grant an interview with Dion.
** Story update, June 30: Since NDP MP Jenny Kwan's initial complaint, the Chinese embassy in Ottawa has issued a statement saying it has not changed its policy, but gives no explanation for why it was asking people to apply for Chinese travel documents.
"It should be noted that we welcome visit to China by Canadians of Hong Kong origin," read the statement. "There is no such a thing as China tightening its travel document-related policies."
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei also addressed the issue in his regular press briefing in Beijing.
Kwan released a statement in response suggesting that people who had problems apply once again and to bring the full Chinese statement from the Chinese embassy with them when they do.
Republished with permission from The Tyee.