Lloyd Axworthy is a former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, chair of the World Refugee & Migration Council and co-chair of its North American and Central Migration Working Group.
Allan Rock is a former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations and a member of the World Refugee & Migration Council and its North American and Central Migration Working Group.
Along the southern border of the United States, the intense summer heat generally reduces the number of migrant asylum seekers. But not this year. The New York Times reported that border officials met migrants nearly 6,000 times a day in June for a total of more than 188,000 – the highest monthly number in recent history.
Unfortunately, this is not the only place where records are set for travel levels. Globally, there were more than 82 million forcibly displaced people at the end of 2020 – a historic record – driven from their homes by persecution, conflict, violence and the ravages of climate change.
Three quarters of all refugees end up in neighboring countries: from South Sudan to Uganda, from Myanmar to Bangladesh, from Venezuela to Colombia, etc. In a way, it’s natural. But it is neither fair nor fair. The result is that 86 percent of refugees are in developing countries – the least able to welcome, house, feed and protect them.
The influx of migrants comes at a time when less and less attention is paid to their plight. In the so-called overdeveloped world, the focus is on the COVID-19 pandemic, protecting our public health and the prospects for recovery of our economies. The notion of sharing seems to have disappeared from the international lexicon.
Yet shared responsibility is the key ingredient in any effective response to global displacement. This is why it was the cornerstone of the 2019 World Council for Refugees and Migration (WRMC) report, A Call to Action. The report stressed that the old duty to grant asylum is universal and must be shared among the nations of the world.
Proximity alone should not determine the place of refuge, and neighboring countries should not be the only alternative for those forced to flee. We called for a “common but differentiated” responsibility: It may not be practical to expect every country to admit a significant number of refugees. But those who do not must contribute to the shared effort in other ways, including financially.
This principle has direct application here in our hemisphere. The situation on America’s southern border represents a continental crisis that demands a continental response. If the sharing of responsibilities is to be meaningful, then the nations of the region – including Canada – must step forward and accept their role in finding solutions.
And not only governments can come up with good ideas. We must build a constellation of international actors working in networks to identify solutions and promote the their adoption. A strategy countering reactionaries who want to revert to the behavior of power is to reconfigure the way a world system can be organized to allow more flexible arrangements, coalitions and networks that bring together the constructive actors of our global community.
With this in mind, WRMC spearheaded the creation of the North American and Central Migration Working Group to reflect and then advocate for enlightened approaches. The co-chairs of the working group are former foreign ministers and senior officials from North and South America, and its members include academics, civil society, business leaders and former policy makers.
The working group’s first set of practical and factual recommendations have now been released, setting out the concrete steps needed to address the urgent humanitarian needs of asylum seekers in the country. southern border of the United States – especially the protection of women and girls. Recommendations on other key topics will follow in the coming months.
To be clear, these are not just recommendations on how the United States can improve the conditions endured by asylum seekers. On the contrary, the proposals speak about the roles of all the nations of the region and how each of us can contribute to dealing with the crisis. Because all local authorities have a role to play.
Canada can take the lead – and help US President Joe Biden deal with one of his toughest political issues – by calling an urgent meeting between its leaders and those of the United States and Mexico, with migration issues being on the agenda and the Central American leaders also present. The meeting is expected to explore regional responses to deal with pressure on the southern border of the United States, protect the displaced and open new avenues towards their orderly resettlement.
This may include the cancellation of the flawed Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the The United States and Canada should receive our share of Central American asylum seekers as part of Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s welcome initiative to increase the total number of refugees we resettle.
In short, by sharing responsibility and showing leadership, Canada can help a neighbor manage a crisis while working with regional partners to find effective ways to respond to urgent humanitarian needs.
Keep your opinions sharp and informed. Receive the Opinion newsletter. register today.