Montreal

Immigration minister pushes back as UN agency urges Quebec to take more refugees

A representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is urging Quebec to take in more refugees in the face of a historic level of displacement across the globe.

UNHCR's Jean-Nicolas Beuze says refugees can help solve labour demands

Jean-Nicolas Beuze, the representative in Canada for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, spoke Thursday at the National Assembly hearings into the Coalition Avenir Québec government's immigration plan. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

A representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is urging Quebec to take in more refugees — not fewer — in the face of a historic level of displacement across the globe.

"It's not only good for the refugees. But it's also good for the province and for the country because they contribute to the society — economically and socially," Jean-Nicolas Beuze, the agency's point person in Canada, said Thursday.

The Coalition Avenir Québec government wants to restrict the number of refugees to 7,500 this year, the lowest number since 2014, and keep it at that level until 2022.

The restriction is part of a plan to reduce the number of immigrants to Quebec by 20 per cent this year. 

Speaking at National Assembly hearings into the province's immigration plan, Beuze pointed to research that suggests refugees are more likely to remain in Quebec than newcomers who arrive under the economic immigration stream.

He said they are eager to learn French and more likely to stay in the regions outside Montreal if that's where they first settle.

"We know that there is a lack of workforce [in the regions]. We need more people to remain outside the urban centre," he said.

Quebec is a welcoming society, Barrette says

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, who is presiding over the hearings, pushed against Beuze's testimony, strongly rejecting any suggestion his government views immigrants in economic terms, with some being "good" and others "not as good."

"I reject that logic," he said.

Jolin-Barrette said Quebec has spent millions helping asylum seekers and refugees settle into Canada.

After the hearing, Jolin-Barrette said he wanted to make it clear that "Quebec society has always done what it has to do for refugees and asylum seekers, and we will continue to do that."

The UN Refugee Agency has reported the number of refugees fleeing war, persecution and conflict exceeded 70 million in 2018 — the highest level seen in almost 70 years.

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