The House

Canada needs to step up in migrant crisis, experts say

Migration experts say it's time for Canada to help address the root causes driving people to cross borders illegally.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence look on as U.S. President Donald Trump shows an executive order putting an end to the controversial separation of migrant families which he signed at the White House on June 20, 2018. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
Listen9:23

Migration experts say it's time for Canada to help address the root causes driving people to cross borders illegally.

U.S. President Donald Trump's decision in May to change American immigration policy to stop what he claimed was a practice of adults using minors as "tickets" to get into the country sparked widespread outrage as many children were separated from their families.

In six weeks, more than 2,000 children were taken away from their migrant parents and detained in three facilities in Texas.

This week, Trump signed an executive order to reverse that directive, but the United States'  "zero tolerance" policy on illegal border crossing still stands: anyone caught will be prosecuted.

Experts say the problem of illegal migration can't be solved at the border.

"To pretend that this is an issue that starts at the border simply ignores the reality that there are deep-rooted causes," Lloyd Axworthy, a former immigration minister and chair of the World Refugee Council, told CBC Radio's The House.

If you want to stop asylum seekers from crossing your borders, you have to find other ways to offer them safety and security, he said.

Jean-Nicolas Beuze, the UNHCR representative for Canada, said there's a way to secure your border and still remain open to people fleeing conflicts — and that balance will be key moving forward.

Most of the detainees in Texas are fleeing from drug cartel violence in central American countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Deterring them from crossing the border won't work, Beuze said, because they're fleeing things so terrible that detention in a safe country is better than freedom in an unsafe country.

Former Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy joins us to talk about Canada's roll in helping with the unfolding issues at the U.S.-Mexico border. 9:23

But based on the recent U.S. response, the countries they enter may not be a safe haven, either.

Countries are trying to go it alone, and that's not going to work,  Axworthy argued; putting the problem to rest requires a global effort.

"We're not going to deal with it simply by flexing muscles at borders."

Beuze agreed.

"What's happening in the U.S. is unfortunately what many countries in the world are being confronted with."

Canada is also dealing with an influx of illegal migrants. About 20,000 asylum seekers walked across the Canada-U.S. border last year, and the numbers remain high in 2018.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has visited communities in the United States where potential migrants — mostly Haitian and Nigerian nationals — are living in order to deter them from crossing into Canada illegally.

Both Axworthy and Beuze said Canada needs to offer more support to address those root issues before they turn into a larger crisis.

UNHCR representative Jean-Nicolas Beuze discusses Canada's roll in helping with the unfolding issues at the U.S.-Mexico border. 11:18

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