OTTAWA – The president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has joined other faith leaders in requesting a dialogue with the prime minister over the treatment of refugees.
“We know that you are concerned about the current state of Canada’s refugee determination system, and we share your concern,” said the Nov. 12 letter sent on the letterhead of the Anglican Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.
“However, references by representatives of your government to ‘bogus’ refugee claimants undermine Canada’s obligations to refugee protection and question the credibility of refugees fleeing persecution and seeking to have their rights recognized within the border of Canada,” the letter said. “They also foster hostility toward refugees and fuel xenophobia in general.”
Bishop Pierre Morissette of Saint-Jerome, Quebec, president of the bishops’ conference, and 11 other faith leaders signed the letter.
The letter stressed the churches’ experience in refugee protection, sponsorship and resettlement.
“Along with you, we play a leadership role in shaping our country and in shaping the dialogue we have about our country, including how we protect refugees, establish refugee policy and meet international human rights obligations,” the letter said.
The leaders offered to host a dialogue or attend a meeting in the prime minister’s office.
They also raised concerns about last summer’s imposition of visa requirements on Mexico and the Czech Republic.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said at the time the move was necessary to stop an increase in refugee claims from those countries.
In July, Canadian immigration officials reported the number of refugee claims from Mexico had tripled since 2005, making it Canada’s No. 1 source of refugee claimants. The Czech Republic came in second, after a previous visa requirement was lifted in 2007.
The officials said 90 percent of Mexican claims are rejected.
Kenney said the volume of claims from these countries undermined Canada’s ability to help people who feel genuine persecution.
The faith leaders, however, expressed concern over a suggested “two-tier refugee determination system.” Kenney has called for refocusing the refugee system on “real victims” of persecution rather than those seeking to come to Canada for economic reasons.