March 18, 2019

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Winnipeg can set example by taking in stranded, Trump-spurned refugees, Axworthy says

OTTAWA — Lloyd Axworthy wants Winnipeg to take in some of Central America’s most vulnerable people, and help reverse a global tide of anti-refugee sentiment.

"We're so blessed in our country with this security that we take for granted; there are people who have just lost it all,” Axworthy said in a Wednesday phone interview from Marrakesh, Morocco.

Canada’s former minister for immigration and foreign affairs wants Canada to resettle Central American refugees who have fled their homes specifically due to gang and domestic violence, and thus can no longer claim asylum under American law.

The Winnipegger, a Liberal minister during the 1980s and '90s, spoke after a United Nations conference in Morocco, where countries endorsed an agreement that has attracted controversy in Ottawa and abroad.

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OTTAWA — Lloyd Axworthy wants Winnipeg to take in some of Central America’s most vulnerable people, and help reverse a global tide of anti-refugee sentiment.

"We're so blessed in our country with this security that we take for granted; there are people who have just lost it all," Axworthy said in a Wednesday phone interview from Marrakesh, Morocco.

Canada’s former minister for immigration and foreign affairs, Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, wants Canada to resettle Central American refugees who have fled their homes due to gang and domestic violence.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Canada’s former minister for immigration and foreign affairs, Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, wants Canada to resettle Central American refugees who have fled their homes due to gang and domestic violence.

Canada’s former minister for immigration and foreign affairs wants Canada to resettle Central American refugees who have fled their homes specifically due to gang and domestic violence, and thus can no longer claim asylum under American law.

The Winnipegger, a Liberal minister during the 1980s and '90s, spoke after a United Nations conference in Morocco, where countries endorsed an agreement that has attracted controversy in Ottawa and abroad.

Axworthy wants his hometown to be an example to the world in helping refugees, who become valued members of society.

"The United States has been, up until now, a very major resettlement country, but now they’re basically discriminating or biased against those who are most likely to be victims of violence, either domestically or from gangs," he told the Free Press.

Axworthy leads the World Refugee Council, a self-appointed body of two dozen global political figures, academics and civil-society representatives.

The former statesman visited the so-called caravan of Central American migrants in Mexico on Nov. 26, a day after U.S. border patrol agents fired tear gas at 500 people who rushed the crossing in San Diego, Calif.

A migrant family, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, runs away from tear gas in front of the border wall between the U.S and Mexico in Tijuana, Mexico in November.

REUTERS/KIM KYUNG-HOON

A migrant family, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, runs away from tear gas in front of the border wall between the U.S and Mexico in Tijuana, Mexico in November.

While many in the caravan are seeking economic opportunity, others want to claim refugee status after fleeing persecution in their home countries. Yet since June, the Trump administration has blocked asylum seekers from making refugee claims on the basis of gang or domestic violence.

"I was really dismayed by discovering that the people in the camp, whom I was talking to, had really hit this kind of stone wall," he said.

"All of a sudden they discovered there is no option. They were just here in this makeshift camp on the border. And there is no possible recourse for going anywhere — they were just stuck."

Canada accepts asylum claims from people escaping proven gang violence and domestic abuse, but only when Canadian tribunals rule that the refugee cannot safely live in another part of their home country.

Axworthy said Winnipeg ought to step up for those in a bind.

Axworthy: Canada must push through anti-refugee ‘headwind’

OTTAWA — On Monday, Canada was one of 163 countries who endorsed the Global Compact for Migration, which has attracted controversy worldwide.

The United Nations pact was rejected by the United States, Australia and some eastern European countries.

OTTAWA — On Monday, Canada was one of 163 countries who endorsed the Global Compact for Migration, which has attracted controversy worldwide.

The United Nations pact was rejected by the United States, Australia and some eastern European countries.

Former statesman Lloyd Axworthy was jolted by that opposition, while attending the conference for that agreement in Morocco this week.

"It’s been a really fascinating, while disturbing, experience. Because you can really pick up (that) a lot of the countries that should be fully endorsing this have pulled out,” he said.

“It just shows that there's a lot of headwind running against the question of providing sanctuary for people who have been forcibly displaced.”

Tory Leader Andrew Scheer has been criticized by members of his own party for suggesting the pact would cede Canada’s authority over refugee intake to the UN. The pact explicitly says countries ought to have sovereignty over their border and asylum policies, but better co-ordinate with each other.

Axworthy feels the rhetoric around the “aspirational” pact ignores a brutal reality faced by millions.

"We're so blessed in our country with this security that we take for granted, that there are people who have just lost it all. And that’s what I think the whole refugee [system] is for."

Axworthy said that when Canada and Germany started accepting Syrian refugees in 2015, it raised awareness of the millions seeking safety.

“I think Canada's leadership helped set things in motion,” said Axworthy arguing the country did the same in welcoming “boat people” refugees who fled when the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

He's hoping Canada comes through for Central American refugees who are barred from the United States.

“I’m hoping to get an interest from the government; I know that this is not an easy thing to do. But it just struck me: Canada’s been very good at bringing in refugees from different parts of the world; here’s something happening in North America itself.”

—Dylan Robertson

In the fall municipal election campaign, Mayor Brian Bowman pledged to make Winnipeg "an international leader" in "the promotion, protection, education as well as policy creation for human rights."

The mayor specifically mentioned crafting a newcomer-welcoming policy to help people access services, but did not specifically mention refugees.

"Maybe this is a way to fulfil that" promise, Axworthy said.

Bowman was not available for an interview Wednesday, but a spokesman said the mayor "would welcome the opportunity to discuss any proposal" from Axworthy and see what falls within municipal jurisdiction.

"Winnipeg already is an epicentre for welcoming people," spokesman Jonathan Hildebrand wrote, noting the city’s role in welcoming Syrian refugees and provincial-nomination workers.

Axworthy floated the idea of welcoming Central American asylum seekers in a column published in Wednesday's Globe and Mail.

He said he hadn’t shared the idea with many people beforehand. He was circumspect in answering a question about whether he’d raised it specifically with Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, saying he’s had numerous talks with Hussen, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Trade Minister Jim Carr about ways to overhaul the refugee system.

Axworthy stressed that welcoming refugees requires a groundswell of support.

A spokesman for Hussen did not say whether the immigration minister had studied Axworthy’s proposal, but said Canada works with the United Nations to select which refugees get resettled, "which ensures that cases are properly reviewed and that applicants are being resettled in the country that best suits their circumstance," wrote Mathieu Genest.

"The selection of refugees is based on vulnerability, to ensure that we are protecting the people who need it the most," Genest said.

The World Refugee Council will describe its idea in more detail in a January report, which will outline ways to improve refugee resettlement and deter situations that cause people to flee their homes in the first place.

Last month, Axworthy unveiled another plank of the upcoming report — seizing assets dictators have "stuck in piggy banks across the world" for distribution to countries that house, feed and educate large numbers of refugees forced to flee those autoritarian regimes.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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