Background and Rationale for Advocacy with Refugee Claimants

Why is it important to take action now? (background)

We are witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. As of 2018, an unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

The refugee crisis is a human crisis. Refugees are people who have had to flee their homes, leaving almost everything behind. They have suffered unimaginable loss. Yet they are people filled with unique life experiences, skills, capacities, and dreams for the future.

Canada is surrounded by water on three sides, and the fourth side is the “longest undefended border” in the world, with a superpower across the way. We’ve enjoyed the kind of isolation that not even island nations like Australia or the United Kingdom have enjoyed, and for the most part we’ve been able to handpick who arrives on our shores—from our economic immigrant points system to our sponsored refugee system. The more recent increase in arrivals of irregular refugees (refugees who cross a border by foot, smuggling, or other means in order to make claims for refugee status at inland offices) is a relatively new experience for Canada.

Recently, the U.S. has cancelled the Temporary Protected Status for many refugees while public opinion has turned against refugees there. As a result, Canada’s southern border has begun to experience just some of the migration pressure that the U.S. has been grappling with for a long time. It has not been a flood by any means. But Canadians are so unaccustomed to dealing with irregular arrivals (not “illegal immigrants” as some have dubbed them) that the movement of people across sites like Roxham Road in southern Quebec and Emerson, Manitoba has created a national conversation. (Read more)

In the past, increased arrival of refugee claimants has correlated with an increase in negative attitudes towards refugees in Canada, due to misunderstandings about the refugee experience and how the refugee process works. For example, when 568 Tamil refugee claimants arrived at the shores of Vancouver Island via the ships MV Sun Sea and MV Ocean Lady, the public outcry led to restrictions in the immigration system that are still creating barriers for refugees today. The government also gave itself new powers to detain refugee claimants. However, two thirds of those claimants were found to be legitimate refugees. (Read more about the impact of the MV Sun Sea and MV Ocean Lady’s arrivals from the Canadian Council for Refugees.)

As Christians who hear the biblical call to welcome the stranger, we must be proactive in confronting fears and misconceptions about refugee claimants--for the sake of “the least of these”, in whose faces we see the face of Christ (Matthew 25:31-46).

What does this have to do with our biblical call?

“... the experience of being displaced—of being a migrant and a refugee—lies at the very heart of the biblical narrative.” (Synod 2010 Report on the Migration of Workers)

There are numerous callings throughout Scripture to show love to “the foreigner,” grounded in the experience the Israelites had of being foreigners themselves. One example is, When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34).

The people of God are instructed to show tangible care for those who are vulnerable, including the foreigner in their midst. e.g. “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)

Sin is described as a lack of concern, and tangible care, for those who were in need: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49)

And the presence of Christ is described as experienced through encounters with “the stranger”: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:25-36)

What does Reformed Christian faith have to say about this?

Much of the general theological underpinnings of welcome and hospitality toward vulnerable immigrants can be found in the 2010 report to Synod on migration.

When it comes to refugees specifically -- those who are driven from their homes to to persecution for specific reasons, including religion -- it is important to remember that the roots of the Reformation spring from the experience of religious persecution. John Calvin himself was a refugee, and ministered to other refugees while in Geneva, giving shape to the theological framework of hospitality that he outlined in his Biblical commentaries. This historical memory grounds and motivates our Reformed witness today.

What has the CRC said about this issue?

The CRC has long been a church quick to welcome refugees. In Canada, World Renew has been a Sponsorship Agreement Holder since 1979 and has helped Canadian congregations to welcome hundreds and hundreds of Privately Sponsored Refugees. In fact, many members of our churches came as refugees themselves. So many of our congregations, in both the United States and Canada, have experienced the blessing that comes with walking alongside a newly arrived family as they restart their lives in a new place. In some cases, those refugee friends have joined our churches, becoming members of the CRC family. Co-sponsoring refugees has become a fundamental part of who we are, and how we experience God. (2017 Statement on the Treatment of Refugees)

The theological underpinnings of the calling to welcome various kinds of immigrants were articulated in a report to Synod 2010 on “the issue of the migration of workers as it relates to the church’s ministries of inclusion, compassion, and hospitality” (Agenda for Synod 2010, pp. 536; see Acts of Synod 2007, p. 596).

In response to the report, synod adopted thirteen recommendations on areas including education and awareness, ministry of mercy and compassion, and justice and advocacy (see Acts of Synod 2010, pp. 875-79).

“Churches are called to be hospitable to immigrants, but hospitality alone will not solve the myriad problems that plague the immigration systems in the United States and Canada.... Christians are right to advocate for immigration policies within a given nation that will be more just, fair, and generous and that will assist the nation in welcoming more strangers as citizens, not fewer.” (Synod 2010 Report on the Migration of Workers)

How does this fit with the mandate of the Centre for Public Dialogue?

The Committee for Contact with the Government (CCG, the Centre’s support committee) and the Centre for Public Dialogue are mandated to address “significant and pressing issues of the day.” (Learn more about the CCG here.)