‘Black refugees’ have been racially profiled and discriminated on the basis of their skin color in most developed countries where they have been resettled. Over the last few years, black refugees most especially from Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries have been racially discriminated against in Canada. Racial discrimination of black refugees in Canada is a crucial issue that needs to be addressed to ensure refugees’ rights are respected and dignified. It is also significant to eliminate the various levels of discriminations that follow at the workplace, accessing local and national services such as education, healthcare and fostering the process of cultural integration. The racialized discrimination of refugees is a violation of the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of which Canada is a signatory.
This literature review explored the current trends and dynamics of racial discrimination of black refugees from SSA living in Canada from both the human rights and humanitarian perspectives. The objective of this paper is to explore what has been documented in the literature on refugees and racism within the context of Canada, what actions have been taken from the human rights, legal and humanitarian paradigms to address racialized discrimination against refugees. The paper also investigated the issues that are lacking in the current literature on refugee and racism and what recommendations needed for future research.
‘Black refugees’ have been racially profiled and discriminated against on the basis of their skin color in most developed countries where they have been resettled. Canada is one of those developed countries that has received refugees and other forced migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and other parts of the world within the last few decades (UNHCR 2010a, 2010b; Gebresellasie 1993; Richmond 1994).
A study has shown that black refugees immigrants are non-traditional immigrants in Canada unlike their counterpart from Europe and the United States have been discriminated in several forms (Gebresellasie 1993). Until 1973 there were fewer than 213 black refugees who were resettled in Canada and were nationally categorized as the “other” (Gebresellasie 1993). Canada is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. Canada as well as the United States, Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Norway are some of the very few developed countries that have resettled refugees in the last three to four decades (UN 1951; UNHCR 2010a).
Canada and other western countries have long discourage the resettlement of black refugees from Africa and would like for refugees from SSA and other Third World countries to be resettled somewhere else (Gebresellasie 1993; Richmond 1994). This have been done through the methodological process of racial discrimination initiated on the global scene through the apartheid against black refugees, but such attempt has failed (Richmond 1994, 1993).
Some of the ways in which refugees especially ‘black refugees’ in Canada have been racially profiled and discriminated against include, but not restricted to the government’s social welfare program and immigration policy, a system which isolate, alienate and deny refugees basic services (Richmond 1993, 1994; Gebresellasie 1993; Richmond 2000). One of several factors that promote racial discrimination is xenophobia and this is usually associated with stigmatizations, stereotypes, and hate that follows these racist perceptions, ideologies, stereotypes and xenophobic paradigms. This is important because refugees are human beings and should have equal access to resources to living, fulfilling and realizing their dreams and aspirations. Racial discriminations against black refugees is an important issue because refugees and asylum-seekers who are resettled in Canada in the name of protection have the rights under international refugee and humanitarian laws to achieve and realize their fundamental human rights and development. It is the host nation's responsibility to make sure that refugees' rights and needs are met just as any other citizen would.
The process of benefiting from social welfare and other public programs in some regions and cities in Canada were based on the premise of Canadian citizenship or permanent residence status, which discriminates against refugees and other forced migrants who to do not have legal status (Danso 2001; Novac 1996; Murdie et al. 1995; Richmond 2000). Refugees’ inability to access social welfare programs and services have caused some refugees to become homeless and perambulating the streets of Canadian cities begging randomly from people for monetary assistance, food, clothing, and other forms of assistance they can offer (Danso 2001; Aiken 1999). In some cases, those refugees who are undocumented find it even more difficult than those refugees who have their legal status. Those who are able to work find it extremely problematic to secure a job for a longer period of time because of their accent and their inability to read, speak and write well-structured English and or French. Most refugees end up in low-paying jobs that can barely pay their bills and cater to their families making it extremely challenging to be "self sufficient" and "reliant," which in turn contributes to their ultimate reliance on social welfare programs offer by the towns, city or state and charity from local, national and international organizations. Their dreams for a "well-founded lives" in Canada fall in dead soils."
For example, not until the early 1990s, refugees and other forced migrants in Ontario were not qualified to benefit from social welfare programs and services, which include access to healthcare, housing, employment and education because eligibility for these services and programs were based on the premise of citizenship or permanent residence status (Danso 2001). In Quebec, refugees were not qualified to benefit from the public housing programs because only those with citizenship and permanent residence status could benefit (Danso 2001; Richmond 2000). Novac (1996) confirmed that “racial discrimination against refugees and immigrants in Canada by studying immigrants' and refugees' enclaves and racial relations in Quebec” (p. 1). Refugees mostly from developing countries many of whom are people of color do not have access to financial resources are more likely to experience tremendous challenges to afford the financial capabilities needed to secure adequate and appropriate housing, healthcare and access to education especially so with the case of black refugees from Ethiopia and Rwanda (Murdie et al. 1995; Richmond 2000; Danso 2001; Adelman 1996).
Racial discrimination in northern societies including that of Canada is one that has developed over a long historic period, dominated by the "white supremacist society" and has since influenced and informed the formation of immigration policies domestically and internationally and is not in any ways mutually isolated from influencing the current refugee policy in Canada and other countries (Troper 1993; Richmond 1994). Refugees are not excluded from these exclusionary, white dominated and racist discriminatory policies (Richmond 1994; Danso 2001). In some countries mostly in the developed North, which include Canada, refugees and other forced migrants such as asylum-seekers, environmental-induce migrants and those with temporary protective status (TPS) like those in the US and Canada are exclusively consider as the “other” framing and subjecting them to societal and governmental discriminatory ideologies, policies, and practices (Richmond 2000).
In 2009, UNHCR identified and submitted to the resettling countries, which included Canada among others the approximately 128,000 refugees potential applicants for resettlement to a Third country (UNHCR 2010a). In that same year, UNHCR and its implementing agencies recorded 28 per cent increase in refugee admissions to a Third country, which is usually resettlement to a developed country. UNHCR estimates that “global resettlement needs approximately 747,000 persons, including populations where resettlement is envisioned over a period of several years” (UNHCR 2010a).
In the last few decades with the increase in global terrorism, the "Arab-Spring," increasing militarization and military coups in most SSA and land disputes between sovereign states, governments in developed countries have significantly increase restrictive measures on traditional migrants and forced migrants, which include refugees and asylum-seekers creating several discriminatory barriers and challenges in creating the perception and ideology of the "other" of which refugees have been classified, framed and categorized (Richmond 1994).
Cheran asserts that the relationship between race, labor and migration and the extent to which systemic racism continues to inform exclusionary refugee policies, particularly in settler societies of the North including that of Canada needs to be addressed and deconstructed in order for refugees’ rights to be realized (Aiken 1999; Cheran 2007). Migration is a key area where racism and discrimination continue to pervade all levels of public policies, institutional practices and national security concerns (Cheran 2007). Forced migrants especially refugees unlike other migrants have totally different issues, stories and experiences concerning their conditions for seeking refuge in another country (Cheran 2007; Richmond 1994). The United States, Canada, Australia, and the European Union (EU) have been cooperating by sharing information, gathering resources, and establishing intergovernmental and transnational organizations for the global control of migration flow of all sorts in creating the "other" and thereby excluding certain groups of people by those discriminatory criteria and measures (Richmond 1994, 1993).
In conclusion, refugees’ rights and freedoms should be viewed within the same framework as those of other Canadian citizen despite their "displaced status." Refugees must be protected by national and international human rights and international humanitarian laws to which signatory countries affixed their contract (UN 1951, 1969). Canada has developed within the last several decades the social, legal, political and cultural society that should foster equality and transparency before the law and not on the social construction of race and discriminatory policies, ideologies and practices that deny certain group of people on the basis of their race, ethnicity, nationality and culture.
Adelman, Howard. 1996. "The Rights of Repatriation-Canadian Refugee Policy: The Case of Rwanda." International Migration Review no. 30 (1):289-309.
Aiken, Sharryn. 1999. "Diverse Perspectives on Refugee Issues: Racism and Canadian Refugee Policy." Refugee no. 18 (4):1-9.
Cheran, R. 2007. "Xeno-Raciam and International Migration." Refugee no. 19 (6):1-3.
Danso, Ransford. 2001. "From 'There' to 'Here': An Investigation of the Initial Settlement Experiences of the Ethiopian and Somali Refugees in Toronto." GeoJournal no. 55:3-14.
Gebresellasie, Yohannes. 1993. Canada's Response to Black African Immigrants. Canada's Periodical on Refugees, 2-5.
Murdie, R. A., A. S. Chambon, J. D. Hulchansk, and C. Teix eira. 1995. Housing Issues Facing Immigrants and Refugees in Greater Toronto: Initial Findings from the Jamaican, Polish and Somali Communities. In The Housing Question of the 'Others' Habitat II Research Conference. Ankara, Turkey.
Novac, Sylvia. 1996. "Immigrant Enclaves and Voices of Racialized." Canadian Women Studies no. 19 (3):88-93.
Richmond, Anthony H. 1993. "Open and Closed Borders: Is the New World Order Creating a System of Global Apartheid?" Refugee no. 13 (1):6-10.
———. 1994. "Refugees and Racism in Canada." Refugee no. 19 (6):12-20.
———. 2000. "Refugees, Inequality, and Human Development." Refugee no. 25 (2):212-217.
Troper, Harold. 1993. "Canada's Immigration Policy." International Journal no. 48 (2):255-281.
UN. 1951. Convention and Protocal Relating to the Status of Refugees. In un Convention and Protocol, edited by UN.
———. 1969. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In 2106, Article 19, edited by UN. UN: UN.
UNHCR. 2010a. Progress Report on Resettlement. In Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme: Standing Committee 48th meeting. Geneva: UNHCR.