June 20 is World Refugee Day, a day to honour the resilience and courage of refugees around the world and stand with them to show our support. This year, as we celebrate the contributions that people who were refugees have made to our communities, let us also acknowledge the barriers that the COVID-19 pandemic places on those seeking safety and protection. The pandemic has brought challenges to all of us and in particular to refugees abroad whose vulnerabilities have been exacerbated. We are thankful for the many churches across Canada who have demonstrated Christ’s love to those in need throughout this past year as they continued to support refugees through sponsorship and resettlement. Despite these generous efforts, a challenge faced by refugees presently is the inability to travel to Canada whilst remaining in precarious circumstances.
In March 2020, the Canadian government announced travel restrictions (to learn more, watch this video we created) designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, which prevented most foreign nationals from travelling to Canada (with some limited exceptions). The implementation of the travel restrictions had an immediate and devastating impact on refugees who were planning to resettle in Canada. Many of the refugees who had their permanent resident visas approved at the time the restrictions were put in place already had their belongings packed, their home rentals released, and their flights booked. However soon after the restrictions were announced, their flights were postponed with no timeframe given as to when they would be rescheduled. Already in precarious situations, the vulnerabilities of refugees increased as they were left in limbo and feeling uncertain about what would happen next.
In July 2020, the Canadian government lifted travel restrictions only for refugees who had their permanent resident visas issued prior to March 18th, 2020. Canada slowly began to see the arrivals of refugees, for which sponsors and the relatives of the refugees in Canada were extremely thankful. However, there is increasing concern for refugees who have applications in process but who have not been issued a permanent resident visa. Because of their lack of visa, they are not currently eligible to enter the country, leaving them at risk in deteriorating conditions.
Travel restrictions have also had a significant impact on Canada’s resettlement numbers. In 2020 Canada planned to resettle over 30,000 refugees. However, only 9,155 landed in the country by year’s end. This is in stark comparison to the 30,082 refugee landings in 2019.
With few landings, the backlog of sponsorship applications at visa posts around the world continues to grow. Currently there are over 50,000 applications to be processed, representing over 65,000 people. Large backlogs ultimately lead to long processing times which creates further challenges for the refugees who are waiting in dire conditions. Refugees must travel for their protection, safety, and hope for a better future. For refugees, travel is essential. We encourage you to take this message to your local Member of Parliament (MP). Ask your local MP to encourage the government to extend the exemption from travel restrictions to all refugees that are and will be approved for permanent residence in Canada, regardless of their permanent resident visa approval date.
We invite you and your congregation to celebrate World Refugee Day. Please reflect on and honour the resilience, perseverance and many contributions of refugees and please advocate for an exemption to the travel ban. Please pray too for the well-being of refugees around the world, for their protection, and for their resettlement to Canada.