Syrians aren’t only refugees needing Canada’s help

Let's not neglect the plight of people elsewhere in the world who need a safe haven

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refugeesCREMONA, Alta. Nov. 24, 2015/ Troy Media/ – While Canada rushes to accommodate 25,000 people who have fled the nightmare of the Islamic State, we must not neglect the plight of people elsewhere in the world who need a safe haven.

Just last week, for instance, Canadian leaders stood by silently as Thailand’s military government deported two more refugees – Jiang Yefei and Dong Guoping – to China while they were under United Nations protection orders.

While their families arrived safely in Canada, Jiang and Dong were illegally bundled back across the border where they will undoubtedly face further punishment for the “crimes” of seeking democratic reform in a country that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once described as “a dictatorship.” And yet, just as prison doors were slamming behind Jiang and Dong, Trudeau shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping and expressed his hopes for “an era of greater co-operation and mutual benefit for both Canada and China in the coming years.”

News reports indicated that, according to the Prime Minister’s Office, Trudeau privately raised the issue of human rights, “about which they would not always agree” with Xi. But there were no public statements to support this and no substantive media interest in the subject.

None of this helps Jiang and Dong. Nor does it help the dozens of others in peril of having international law and their rights violated if they are returned by Thai authorities to China. They once navigated that same border in the hope that Canada might give them haven from the repression of Xi’s regime.

Nor is it of any help to millions in China and Thailand who live with a fear of government that the average Canadian cannot even begin to imagine.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, we should differentiate between economic migrants and others. It says that a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Millions of people have sought and been granted UN protection since that definition was put into place. And yet, as the cases of Jiang and Dong illustrate, since the 2014 coup in Thailand, that protection has been savagely flouted.

Trudeau, speaking at the G20 meetings in Antalya, Turkey, said a country should not be defined by “national identity or ethnicity or language or background but on values,” such as openness, respect, compassion, “a willingness to work hard and be there for each other.”

Surely that means being there for all those who struggle for freedom; and that among those values Canadians share is an unflinchingly belief in the human rights of all people. In a fresh era of transparency, Canadians should demand that their leaders speak openly and freely on matters of rights. And we should demand that Thailand, one of our leading trade partners among Association of Southeast Asian Nations, honour the sanctity of UN protection orders. That means that people under UN protection orders after fleeing oppression in China should not be arrested and returned to face further punishment.

The Trudeau government is right to open Canada to Syrian refugees. But the government will be wrong if it doesn’t act immediately to help those at risk elsewhere. That means declaring – bravely, directly and freely – Canada’s opposition to the monstrous abuse of refugee and human rights taking place in Thailand and China.

Joseph Shi spent seven years in a Chinese prison before coming to Canada as a refugee. Today he is a business owner and municipal councillor in Cremona, Alta.

Joseph is a Troy Media contributor. Why aren’t you?

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