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World Refugee Day – June 20, 2020: Every Action Counts

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June 20 is World Refugee Day, a chance for us to reflect on hardship and suffering that has never been more widespread than it is today.

Record numbers of people are being forced to flee their home country out of fear of persecution. This persecution can be because of race, religion, nationality, political affiliation or opinion, and in a lot of cases, by natural or man-made disasters.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says on top of all the other difficulties refugees face, the COVID-19 pandemic is a new and potentially deadly threat.

“We are seeing a drop in the number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario, but many developing countries are now feeling the impact of this deadly virus.  It can have deadly consequences amongst the world’s most vulnerable people, those living in poverty, and definitely refugees.”

For decades people fleeing persecution and conflict have turned to foreign lands for refuge. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) was created from the crisis of misplaced Europeans at the end of the Second World War.  It has become the official UN body responsible for the plight of refugees.

In 2018, there were 70.8 million people forced from their homes by conflict and persecution, the highest number of people ever.  First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida says it’s shameful.

“These are innocent people who did nothing to deserve the circumstances they find themselves in,” said Almeida.  “This is the kind of hate that we cannot allow to continue.”

It was also estimated in 2018 that there were millions of stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

Elizabeth Ha, Chair of the PHRC, says it’s important for us to recognize International Refugee Day.

“It takes enormous courage and strength for people to leave their home countries, not because they want to, but because they have no choice”, said Ha. “More importantly, we need to educate ourselves to see how our own government plays a part in the forced migration of people from other countries.”

Canada is committed to aiding and protecting those who are forced to flee their homes due to threats or those fearing for their lives.

In 2017 we saw an influx of asylum seekers crossing the borders between Canada and the United States. As a response to this the federal government developed the National Asylum Seekers Plan to aid in the process of identifying, aiding, processing or refusing these claims.

COVID-19 has opened the eyes of many to the plight of marginalized people across the spectrum. From seniors to the poor and overlooked on the streets, their plight and those of refugees must take priority for government and agencies all over, our legacy of unconscious biases and hate, cannot continue to build wealth for some while leaving so many to suffer by the wayside.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President of OPSEU

Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer