Sunday, November 30, 2014

Communities of Faith Must Open Their Doors to Refugees

November 28, 2014
Communities of Faith Must Open Their Doors to Refugees
The Anne Frank Sanctuary Committee extends warmest wishes to the sanctuary conference happening today in Vancouver.
With sanctuary, we recognize first and foremost a long-standing tradition to welcome the stranger, the oppressed, the persecuted, the wrongly defamed, and place that commitment above the orderly and efficient operation of an often unjust system which treats migrants seeking asylum as so many cattle to be processed, detained, and “removed.”
Canada is a hard place for refugees and immigrants. It has been since Europeans invaded the continent and began our genocide against indigenous peoples. Restrictive immigration laws based on racial and religious background have always been a cornerstone of this nation, turning away Jews when Nazism reigned in Europe, Latin Americans during the dirty wars of the 70s and 80s, Tamils throughout the brutal civil war in Sri Lanka, among many others. It has fallen to citizens to advocate with those who, having sought safety here, are set up for arbitrary detention and deportation. 

From 2006 until November 12, 2013, the Canadian immigration bureaucracy's "Grand Totals of Removals Executed" stood at 116,266. Think of all those individuals, families, and communities traumatized by the sudden disappearance and deportation of a schoolmate, a neighbour, a fellow congregant. The use of the term "execution" is quite apropos: some of those who were part of the "removals inventory" – human beings who have been relegated to the status of the garbage taken out in the night –  wound up dead in the country from which they originally fled. We do not know exact numbers because the Canadian government does not keep track when it illegally sends people off to face torture and disappearance, but we do hear from advocates, family members and loved ones of such tragedies. Shot in the head and found by a roadside. Tortured. Interrogated and disappeared upon arrival.

Canada's immigration laws increasingly face international condemnation for their failure to live up to basic standards of fairness and legality. In this troubled system, many people fall through the cracks for lack of good counsel, for misunderstanding an incredibly complex set of rules and regulations, for falling prey to greedy immigration consultants, for not having money. Canada's designation of them as "failed refugees" does not take away from the fact that they are, in fact, refugees in need of protection. It becomes our obligation under the law to assist those facing deportation to try and open doors so that their cases may be reconsidered, so that clear errors can be remedied and their lives no longer subject to trauma and the torture of limbo that so many are forced to live under. This is not defiance of the law: it is, in the best sense possible, adhering to those international legal instruments to which Canada is a signatory, covenants that assure the rights of asylum seekers. The lesson of Nuremberg is that when governments engage in crimes against humanity, crimes such as indefinite detention and deportation to torture, it is the duty of citizens to refuse to go along quietly.

Sanctuary has been one of the tools used successfully to keep people in Canada who otherwise would have been deported to face, at best, uncertainty, and at worst, prison, torture, and death. The cases are sometimes long, difficult journeys for the individuals and families, as well as host congregations, but they are the ultimate expression of faith in one another and our belief in truth and justice winning the day. They also provide us with an opportunity to be our best, most truthful selves. The risks to us are small; the rewards are great. We are in the business of trying to save lives, pure and simple.

Writing in December, 1945, Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker movement, reminded us “it is no use to say that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ.” She notes that for early generations of Christians, “in every house then a room was kept ready for any stranger who might ask for shelter; it was even called ‘the strangers’ room’’”.

Contemporary churches have more than enough rooms for "strangers" in our midst. They have the capacity and, with a bit of faith, the will to stand with those who are most vulnerable in our country. The Anne Frank Sanctuary committee has been privileged to work in sanctuary for over a dozen years, winning almost all of the cases it has taken on.  We are sick at heart to think of those who did not have the resources or the connections to seek out sanctuary and who are now a world away, struggling to survive.

May the message of today’s gathering be clear: the callous and, indeed, illegal decisions of governments must be disregarded as we uphold the higher law of loving our neighbours and respecting the dignity and humanity of everyone who appears on our doorsteps. May all places of faith in this country live out their creed, open their doors, and fill up with refugees to the point where the cruel, heartless business of deportation comes to an end.

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