New Brunswick

Canada could take in more refugees, says UN agency representative

Jean-Nicolas Beuze, a representative of the UN Refugee Agency, says he doesn't know what the number should be, but he believes Canada should be accepting more than 10,000 refugees a year.

Poll suggests Canadians are willing to bring more refugees into country

Jean-Nicolas Beuze, the UN Refugee Agency's representative in Canada, says the country should be accepting more than 10,000 refugees a year. (CBC)

Jean-Nicolas Beuze of the UN Refugee Agency says while he doesn't know what the number should be, he believes Canada should be accepting more than 10,000 refugees each year.

"When you see that Canada needs 310,000 newcomers every year, to only have 10,000 them drawn from the refugee pool begs some questions," said Beuze, the agency's representative in Canada.

Beuze, who is visiting New Brunswick to explore the Atlantic immigration program, said Canada has the best possibility and willingness of citizens to receive more refugees.  

"Last week, there was a report, a poll that indicated Canadians want Canada to do more for refugees," he said. "It's their priority number one. Ten years ago it was about peacekeeping, maintaining peace throughout the world." 

Last year, according to the Canadian Council for Refugees, only 7,500 government-assisted refugees were accepted into Canada, a decrease from the average number a year in the first 15 years of this century.

Welcoming country

Beuze said many Canadians want to profile their country and their society as welcoming for refugees. 

"We really believe that there's room for improvement in terms of those extremely vulnerable cases who can come here." 

A person with disabilities, for example, would have more opportunity to build a life in Canada than in a refugee camp, he said. 

"If you are a disabled child in a refugee camp in Tanzania, I can tell you, you don't go to school, you probably don't even move from your plastic sheeting tent," Beuze said.

Political will

The UN Refugee Agency, also known as UNHCR, has a mandate to help displaced people, provide relief and help resettle them, either in their home countries or elsewhere

Beuze said he believes the reluctance to allow more refugees into Canada is based on politics, despite the enthusiasm he finds for the refugee program wherever he visits, including New Brunswick.

"This country is based on immigration," he said. "This country is based on multiculturalism, multi-religions. And people really value the fact that bringing newcomers through the refugee path is of added value to their society." 

There are questions about the right number of refugees to allow, he said, but political leaders who show courage on humanitarian and ethical principles and favour increasing the number will benefit.

Some people are anti-refugee, anti-immigration, anti-foreigner, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, homophobic and so on, he said.

"The list is long very long unfortunately," Beuze said. 

"We have one-third who are completely passionate and want to do more and their countries to do more, and we have this one set that is in the middle." 

Refugee children with disabilities would have more opportunities living in Canada than a refugee camp says Beuze.

But he believes the middle group can be persuaded to move toward favouring more refugees, especially since they have talent and expertise that are needed in Canada and in provinces such as New Brunswick. 

"They should be seen as economic agents, people who will be studying, people who will be integrating as any other newcomer." 

With files from Information Morning Fredericton