The systemic sidelining of the Palestinian refugee problem makes Canada an enabler of violence and statelessness.
Following the influx of refugees from Syria across the world, Canada’s role both before and after the current Trudeau government has been a perpetuator of Statelessness, especially with the policy of exclusionism in relation to the Palestinians.
Under the Harper government, Canada halted and shifted its funding to the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) which specifically administers the refugee affairs of the Palestinians. Setting aside the problematic nature of having the Palestinians outside of the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) - the international legal body that governs refugee matters under international law - the funding cut by a donor country like Canada has had dire consequences on the lives of the Palestinians - a group of people who have been rendered into permanent refugee status and statelessness since 1948.
Although the Trudeau government has brought change to Syrian refugees and eliminated the Harper government’s exclusionary policy towards them, the Canadian refugee policy towards the Palestinians remains exclusionary rendering it specifically short-sighted in the Syrian context.
A recent appeal statement was made by the chief of UNHCR for the international community to embrace 400,000 more refugees from Syria as a result of the pressures felt over the horrendous crisis situation ravaging the region. With that being said, along with Prime Minister Trudeau’s prior commitment to welcome approximately 25,000 refugees from Syria, the Palestinians within Syria are omitted and rendered invisible, consequently perpetuating the plight of the Palestinians.
Notwithstanding the double-trouble status that the Palestinians of Syria are in - having been rendered initially into statelessness and now having to flee Syria - Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk has warned and called out for the international community to intervene to address the serious and violent situation the Palestinian people are in, especially the dire health conditions and food shortages.
Furthermore, the Palestinians have been victimized significantly by the Islamic State as well as opposing factions and the Syrian regime forces, including the exploitation of the Palestinian children into becoming child soldiers.
Given the consequences and situation described, the Trudeau government’s concerning response to the UNHCR calls for renewed and restoration of UNRWA funding by Canada has been a significant contribution to universal shame and Palestinian statelessness.
Canada’s inaction towards the Palestinian refugees within Syria contradicts its international human rights policy as well as its obligations under international law. For Canada to present itself as a welcoming place for 25,000 refugees from Syria while simultaneously perpetuating suffering and excluding the same number or more Palestinian-refugees within Syria based on their identity as Palestinians is an affront to international human rights principles.
For Canada to restore and maintain its integrity on a political and rights based front it is crucial that it takes the following recommendations seriously through practical and clear action:
- To restore funding to the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) as per the statements made by chief of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
- To devise a strategy and plan to include the Palestinian-Syrian refugees within the next resettlement plans for the calls made by the United Nations over an additional 400,000 refugees from Syria for the world to embrace.
- To continue to reinforce Canada’s leading international human rights role and obligations by taking initiative and agreeing to the ratification of the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons as well as adherence to obligations under the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
Writer, Scholar, Human Rights Activist