As befits its reputation for generosity, Canada is ranked in the top four of nations most accepting of migrants, according to a recent Gallup poll. As a share of population, its yearly immigration is three times that of the United States. This distinction may help explain why, as the host of a Group of Seven summit of major Western leaders, Canada has invited a most unlikely guest to the G7’s gathering in Quebec next month.
She is Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh. Her South Asian country is now coping with one of the world’s latest mass movements of refugees – the forced exodus of 700,000 Rohingya Muslims from mostly Buddhist Myanmar in a case of violent ethnic cleansing.
In addition, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has put a related topic on the G7 agenda: Venezuela, also a recent source of mass migration. An estimated 5,000 Venezuelans a day are fleeing to neighboring countries, a result of mass hunger and poverty under a dictatorial regime. The number seeking asylum in the US jumped last year by 88 percent. And after a sham election in Venezuela last Sunday, the total number of migrants is expected to rise from 1.5 million to 2 million by year’s end.
Canada’s spotlight on these two countries is both welcome and well timed. According to the United Nations, the world is experiencing the highest number of displaced people on record, or about 40 million people, in places as diverse as Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, Venezuela, and Myanmar. Millions are fleeing for reasons just as diverse – political turmoil, mass poverty, or ethnic and religious conflict. In Myanmar, many Rohingya women fled just to avoid being raped.
While many Western countries, including the US, are increasing aid to refugees, the need for humanitarian assistance keeps rising even as the West’s ability to address the root causes of each crisis has diminished. Canada hopes to start a fix for all this by focusing the G7 summit on ways to influence the leaders of Myanmar and Venezuela.
Western democracies have a big stake in such a difficult task. Anti-immigrant feelings are disrupting their politics, reflected in Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, and the rise of extremist parties in many EU nations. Voters increasingly fear a loss of national sovereignty, local community, and rule of law.
Like many other global issues, mass migration needs to be on the agenda of world leaders. And it takes a generous country to put it there. As Canada knows, every refugee deserves a home, either back in their own country or in a welcoming foreign land.