Canada is a better country for welcoming immigrants and refugees.
Forty years ago, Canada opened its door to thousands of refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and it’s safe to say we’re all better off for doing so.
For Canada’s efforts, the United Nations bestowed its 1986 Nansen Refugee Award on the people of Canada — the only time in the prize’s 65-year history that it’s been granted to the people of a country for outstanding service to the cause of refugees, displaced or stateless people.
Thirty years later, Canadians came through again to assist and welcome some 40,000 Syrian refugees to communities across the country. And though it’s early days yet, many are already making their mark and even giving other refugees a chance at a new beginning.
In both cases, a good number of refugees were privately sponsored, a uniquely Canadian innovation that was introduced in the late 1970s alongside other important humanitarian-focused revisions to Canada’s Immigration Act.
Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program allows organizations or groups of Canadians to sponsor eligible foreign refugees in exchange for a commitment to accompany them and provide help for housing, clothing, food and psychosocial support as they transition to life in Canada.
According to the Canadian Council for Refugees, more than 275,000 refugees have been granted asylum through Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program since 1979.
This exceptional spirit of openness recently propelled Canada to the top spot in a Pew Research Centre survey of attitudes toward immigration in top destination countries.
When asked if immigrants today make their country stronger because of their work or talents or if immigrants today are a burden on their country because they take jobs and social benefits, 68 per cent of Canadians surveyed said immigrants make Canada stronger.
Looked at in terms of political ideology, 65 per cent of Canadians who self-identified as conservative said immigrants make Canada stronger compared to 81 per cent of liberals.
This finding is especially encouraging because it suggests that, try as some politicians may, immigration does not have the same polarizing potential in Canada that we’ve seen in the United States and other Western nations.
Most Canadians just don’t have it in them to close their hearts and minds to the world and those in need. That’s not who we are as a people – and we have the award to prove it.