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Reforms to refugee law urgent: Axworthy

Former foreign affairs minister touts report that urges asylum system overhaul

Fred Chartrand / The Canadian Press files</p><p>Former Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy says the new World Refugee Council report offers ‘specific, realistic changes.’</p>

Fred Chartrand / The Canadian Press files

Former Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy says the new World Refugee Council report offers ‘specific, realistic changes.’

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/1/2019 (442 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Lloyd Axworthy is challenging the global community to reform a "floundering" asylum system that hasn’t been overhauled in almost seven decades, arguing anti-refugee sentiment will otherwise continue to rise.

"It’s now time to translate a lot of the rhetoric and aspirations and commitments to action," Axworthy said Wednesday, on the eve of a major report that delves into everything from smartphone apps to the global financial system.

"These are specific, realistic changes, so that people can see that our governments actually have a handle on it," said the Winnipegger, a federal Liberal minister during the 1980s and ’90s.

The report, titled A Call to Action, will be published today by the World Refugee Council, a self-appointed body of two dozen global political figures, academics and civil society representatives.

"Without bold change, the system will ultimately collapse," reads the report, provided to the Free Press before its release.

The report calls for the first major rethink of global refugee law since the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, and compares it to Canada’s leadership in nearly phasing out land mines worldwide in the late 1990s.

A key part is finding money to finance the 65 million people who are displaced worldwide.

Axworthy had earlier revealed one proposal: to pass laws allowing countries to seize assets dictators have "stuck in piggy banks across the world" and use the cash to house, feed and educate those who fled authoritarian regimes.

The report details other means, such as global bonds that can accrue interest to be used to pay for refugee services, and preferential treatment in trade agreements and development loans for countries that either agree to take in refugees or have been forced to do so.

Today’s report calls for binding obligations that would have richer countries commit to resettling and funding refugees, to reverse a decline in cash for asylum seekers who are largely concentrated in poor countries.

"One way to overcome a lot of the anxiety and concern is to demonstrate to people that in fact there are solutions, that there is an effort being made to change the system, reform it, clean it up, make it more effective," Canada’s former immigration and foreign affairs minister said.

"You can overcome a lot of the indifference and the real xenophobia that’s out there."

Another key plank of the report calls for an official status for internally displaced people (IDPs), who have fled their homes, just like refugees, but don’t have the same rights because they haven’t crossed a border into another country.

That issue emerged during Canada’s ongoing resettlement of thousands of Yazidis, many of whom had been violently attacked by the so-called Islamic State group and forced to live in ramshackle camps, but hadn’t left Iraq’s border.

The UN Refugee Agency estimates there are 40 million IDPs, compared with 25 million refugees, even though just 15 per cent of its own funding goes to IDPs.

"Nobody’s taking any responsibility for them," the former statesman said.

Another idea would have counters help create smartphone apps to help people in refugee camps apply for asylum, find adequate food and shelter, take courses and receive donations.

The report calls on countries to better co-ordinate refugee resettlement, hold each other to account and share stories of refugee success, such as communities whose economies have been jump started by newcomers.

Those recommendations all echo the UN’s Global Compact for Migration, a document that outlined suggestions on how to improve asylum systems, but attracted controversy worldwide in the lead up to its December signing.

The federal Conservatives claimed the pact would undermine federal authority, despite it explicitly stating countries ought to have sovereignty over their border and asylum policies.

Axworthy said today’s report goes further, by touching on financial and political moves that fall beyond the UN mandate. He’s optimistic, in spite of last month’s imbroglio.

"There’s enough goodwill out there, it just needs political leadership right now, which it really doesn’t have," he said, pointing to existing programs that help refugees, which the report cites.

He noted climate change will likely cause millions to flee their coastal towns and island nations in the future.


Dylan Robertson

Dylan Robertson
Parliamentary bureau chief

In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"

Read full biography


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