Speaking Notes for the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Virtual event on the Protection and Empowerment of Displaced Women and Girls from Central America and Mexico
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Sean Fraser, hosts a virtual event on the Protection and Empowerment of Displaced Women and Girls from Central America and Mexico
December 7, 2021
Thank you so much to our moderator and thank you so much to everyone for being here. Welcome everyone, bienvenue tout le monde. (Spanish language) My name is Sean Fraser and I’m thrilled to join you as Canada’s new Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. I’d like to begin by acknowledging I’m joining you from our nation’s capital in Ottawa situated on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnawbe people.
On behalf of the Government of Canada, let me [tell you] what an honour it is to welcome you all to our high-level event as chair of the support platform for the comprehensive regional protection and solutions framework, or MIRPS, which is easier to say. As most of you know by this stage, Canada has assumed the chair of the support platform earlier this year.
It couldn’t come, in my mind, at a more important time. Addressing the migration crisis, we see globally and the forced displacement of human beings is one of the seminal issues of our time. The COVID global pandemic has only compounded the challenges we face collectively. From welcoming vulnerable refugees to our country to helping our friends in the region, I can assure you that Canada is going to be there. I mean that when I say it.
As the chair of the platform, we’re focused on helping Central American nations and Mexico as well, get the assistance they need to help manage their challenges with forced displacement and migration, whether that support is financial, technical or political in nature. We hope to rally nations to strengthen their protection systems as outlined in the national action plans that I learned about in my recent visit to Guatemala.
We want to support the creation and promotion of regular and safe pathways for migration and movement. This is going to include refugee settlement and other complementary pathways as well such as community sponsorship and labour mobility programs. As part of these efforts, I had the opportunity to visit Guatemala last week for the MIRPS annual meeting on my very first foreign visit as a federal minister in Canada.
During the discussions I had the opportunity to listen closely to how the MIRPS countries outlined progress on their various national action plans. These are plans that identify concrete commitments and priorities to address the forced displacement crisis in the region. Our role as a support platform is to be actively engaged in these conversations with the MIRPS countries to help them achieve their goals.
During the trip, I had the immense privilege of meeting some inspiring young women and girls during our visit to l’Allianza and I know we’re going to have a guest joining us from the organization as part of the discussion later today. This organization is a shelter and school for young women and girls who suffer from abuse, violence and trafficking. Frankly, when I heard their stories, the experiences they described should shock the conscience of every one of us who’s joined this meeting today.
Quite sadly, I’m afraid they’re not going to surprise anyone. One of the girls who guided our visit has stuck with me since I left Guatemala. She spoke eloquently, showed us around the facility, described her experience there and the value that it brought. At one point during our visit, she gave a five-minute speech without referring to a single note.
I couldn’t help but think she might have been speaking to a Cabinet Minister last week but my real hope is by investing in the kind of programs that support people in her scenario is that next week she may be able to see in herself the potential to be a minister one day. I left l’Allianza with a mixed sense of pride for some of the contributions Canada has played alongside other donors to the organization and similar organizations in the region.
I also left with an overwhelming sense of the need to do more so that others around the world can get the support they so richly deserve. I want to thank in particular Ms. Carolina Escobar Sartir, who is with us today as one of the panelists for her extraordinary efforts in the area and for taking the time to walk me through the principles, approaches and strategies that underpin the transformative work going on, on the ground that l’Allianza does with young women and girls.
There are lessons I learned from that trip that I hope to share with women’s resource centres in my own community in Canada because we don’t have a monopoly on good ideas in any one country. The opportunity to learn from one another is one of the most valuable assets that this platform is going to provide. I look forward to hearing more insights from Carolina and the other panelists because we do have much to learn from one another.
This trip to Guatemala reinforced for me the importance of the MIRPS support platform in addressing forced displacement, both its causes and its impact in Central America and Mexico. That leads me to my next point, Canada’s focus as chair of the support platform this year led by our Prime Minister. Canada is proud of our feminist foreign policy and our feminist international assistance policy.
It’s an approach that guides every one of Canada’s international commitments including our contribution as the chair of MIRPS support platform. It’s also the topic of our session today, displaced women and girls in Central America and Mexico using the MIRPS framework to protect, assist and empower. This theme emphasizes the multifaceted nature of movement in the region including international protection needs and human rights of refugee and migrant women, girls and LGBTQI+ individuals.
Our goal with this theme is to draw attention to the specific needs of women and girls who are forcefully displaced and rally partners to help protect the tens of thousands of women and girls have fled countries in northern Central America to escape domestic and sexual violence in particular. Yet the journey North is often just as perilous as the situations they are seeking to flee.
Canada aims to raise awareness of the dangers these groups face while on the move while taking action to meaningfully address gender-based violence in MIRPS countries. According to UNHCR, there are tens of thousands of women and girls that have fled countries in the area while members of the LGBTQI+ communities also face discrimination, violence and persecution.
These countries are demonstrating the implementation of their national action plans, a series of concrete measures that are taking into account displaced women and girls specifically as well as members of the LGBTQI+ community. These measures capture MIRPS countries’ commitment to address areas such as protection, jobs and livelihoods, education and health and social protection.
I was thrilled to learn about some of the on-the-ground efforts when I listened to the presentations during our meetings in Guatemala. In this particular context, we have chosen to schedule this event to align with the UN Refugee Agency’s 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. As many of you know, this international annual campaign begins November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
It’s going to conclude on December 10th, Human Rights Day. Many MIRPS nations are already leading on this effort with national action plans and measures to better protect women and girls and we all have to support them. That’s why I’m so proud to announce today on behalf of my colleague, Minister Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s Minister of International Development, a new initiative to empower and protect women and girls in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
This announcement will involve a commitment of $10 million over the next 4 years and will be working with the IOM and UNHCR to assist women who have been forcibly displaced. We’re going to address the roots of irregular migration and help women voluntarily and safely return to their home countries as part of this effort.
Finally, we will work to better protect women, girls and LGBTQI+ individuals especially internally displaced persons, refugees and asylum seekers as part of this effort. This isn’t all. Over the next months, Canada is going to be advancing initiatives both large and small as part of our role as chair. Two priorities are improving in particular the integration of newcomers and promoting complementary pathways which means new avenues for more refugees to arrive in our countries.
To demonstrate the kind of approaches that MIRPS countries might pursue, we plan to showcase Canada’s innovative economic mobility pathways pilot for refugees and our world leading community sponsorship program. Just last week applications opened in Canada under the expanded pilot program that allows skilled refugees to come to Canada through existing economic immigration programs.
If you’ll allow me to break from my remarks for just a moment, I can say I’ve seen firsthand the value this program provides to Canada as a destination country for these refugees. There is a long-term care facility five minutes from my home called Glen Haven Manor that recently resettled 32 refugees who are providing care to seniors in our community, allowing people to stay in our community that otherwise would have had to leave to seek the care they need.
We’re able to bring a benefit to Canada. At the same time, we’re helping to alleviate some of the pressures that people are facing around the world. This is a small community of just a few thousand people. Imagine what an initiative like this could do if we scale up the ambition to small communities all over the world like the one I come from.
This month I should also say we celebrate the five-year anniversary of the global refugee sponsorship initiative which is assisting other countries in developing community sponsorship models. This initiative resulted in sponsorship programs or pilots in eight other countries. Not only do these programs allow us to welcome more refugees. They help reframe how society sees refugees.
Too often I hear people talking about refugees who are looking to get something, who are a burden on the system when in so many ways my experience is they’re here to give something. The refugees I’ve met in my own community who came through private sponsorship have started businesses that employ dozens of people. They have opened restaurants that make my community a more dynamic and vibrant place to live.
They add a new vibrancy and culture to the place I call home. I think we can share these lessons and success stories with countries all over the world. We also want to work to strengthen and build the capacity of protection systems by increasing technical assistance we provide to countries in the region.
We’re going to continue active discussions with interested partners and stakeholders to identify new opportunities for collaboration and to broaden the base of engagement in the MIRPS support platform itself. Our intent is to take a whole of society approach. This is in keeping with the global compact on refugees given the largely untapped opportunity for governments to engage with non-state actors and individuals with lived refugee experience in advancing solutions.
Finally, Canada believes we must put the forcibly displaced and their lived experiences at the heart of everything we do. We need to support refugee led organizations and give refugees, especially women and girls, the space to share their stories with the world. As UNHCR’s High Commissioner, Filippo Grande, recently noted, the world is at a watershed moment.
This is a time when managing forced displacement globally requires a more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren’t left to deal with this alone in a piecemeal way. My hope is not simply that Canada is going to heighten its ambition, but that we will choose to do more collectively as a global community who are facing common challenges, not only regionally but globally.
I tend to see an attitude in some parts of the world including some parts of my own country that we’re somehow better off if we go it alone. I can’t tell you how strongly I disagree with that mindset whether it’s responding to the pandemic, addressing the consequences of climate change or solving the forced displacement crisis we’re discussing today.
It’s clear that global problems require global solutions. People are moving in record numbers. It’s up to us to decide how we’re going to manage this trend collectively. Left unchecked the most vulnerable people in the world will remain at risk. The capacity of our national systems will be overwhelmed and unhealthy attitudes that discriminate against newcomers are going to proliferate.
But if we work together, we can face these challenges in a way that will protect the vulnerable, grow our economies and make our communities even better places to call home, not just for the newcomers who join us but for the people who’ve lived there for generations. As I conclude today, I want you to know Canada is here to help. But we also have a lot to learn.
We may have a world-leading refugee and asylum system but we also know our geography makes it easier on us than many other parts of the world. Let us learn from one another and go forward together. We might not be right next door but there’s no question we’re neighbours and we intend to be good ones. Thank you so much everyone, gracias.
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