Title: “There is no Free Ticket to Stay in Canada”: The Representation of Nigerian Refugees in the Canadian Print Media by Nekpen Obasogie (2019) Master’s Thesis at York University

Abstract

Canada has implemented this type of restrictive refugee policy based on nationality in the past, and the exclusionary refugee policies entrenched in the Harper Conservative government continue to shape the policies in the current Liberal government. During the Harper government, many commentators argued that the refugee policy was too harsh, especially the creation of a list of Designated Countries of Origin (DCOs) that excluded some group of refugees from receiving equal treatment in Canada based on nationality and the biases existing in some past refugee policies (Silverman, 2014, p. 27).  The constant changes to Canada’s immigration policies are, indeed, counterbalanced by the ongoing discrimination against specific refugee groups. Some policies remain the same and they are grounded in the exclusion of refugees based on race and nationality. Despite the Liberal criticism of the previous Conservative government, the same pattern of exclusionary refugee policy is entrenched under the current administration of the Liberal government. The recent quest to impede Nigerian refugees from entering Canada is one among the many previous immigration and/or refugee policies that have restricted refugees from exercising the freedom of mobility right to enter the country. Canada controls its border and decides who can or cannot enter the country based on race and nationality. 

This critical discourse analysis utilizes thematic analysis and postcolonial and anti-racist theoretical lenses to review newspaper articles in order to identify the ways in which Nigerian asylum seekers are represented in the mainstream Canadian print media. This study seeks to account for how dominant discourses about this group shape public opinion and public policy

Dedication

This paper is dedicated to all the Nigerian refugees who have come to Canada due to the threats of Fulani Herdsmen and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Chapter One

 Introduction

Canada has had some restrictive refugee policies in the past and this trend continues to the present day, where it has led to a restrictive refugee policy that overtly opposes and limits the ability of refugees from Nigeria to gain entry into the country. My experience with Nigerian refugees in the shelter where I did my first Master’s of Social Work (MSW) placement intensified my curiosity about the ways in which some groups of refugees are targeted and/or excluded through public policy. The ways in which the federal Liberal government constructed Nigerian refugees also gained the attention of the Nigerian community here in Toronto this year.  I joined other members to intervene in the issues surrounding the construction of Nigerian refugees who are walking from the US to Canada as illegal or irregular border crossers. Recently, Canadian Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, travelled to Nigeria as part of a federal government effort to amend a bilateral agreement with the United States that allows the reduction of American visas to Nigerian applicants through the connection of Canadian immigration officials with US visa officers in Nigeria (Wright, 2018, p. 2). This initiative focuses on reducing the flow of Nigerian refugee claimants who are walking into Canada through the United States. The question is whether or not Nigerians are the only refugee group that is crossing the US border into Canada? 

Canada has implemented this type of restrictive refugee policy based on nationality in the past, and the exclusionary refugee policies entrenched in the Harper Conservative government continue to shape the policies in the current Liberal government. During the Harper government, many commentators argued that the refugee policy was too harsh, especially the creation of a list of Designated Countries of Origin (DCOs) that excluded some group of refugees from receiving equal treatment in Canada based on nationality and the biases existing in some past refugee policies (Silverman, 2014, p. 27).  The constant changes to Canada’s immigration policies are, indeed, counter-balanced by the ongoing discrimination against specific refugee groups. Some policies remain the same and they are grounded in the exclusion of refugees based on race and nationality. Despite the Liberal criticism of the previous Conservative government, the same pattern of exclusionary refugee policy is entrenched under the current administration of the Liberal government. 

The recent quest to impede Nigerian refugees from entering Canada is one among the many previous immigration and/or refugee policies that have restricted refugees from exercising the freedom of mobility right to enter the country. Canada controls its border and decides who can or cannot enter based on race and nationality. This research project critically analyses newspaper articles that address the Toronto Star’s and the Globe and Mail’s recent coverage of the quest to prevent Nigerian refugees from gaining entry into Canada from the US. These newspapers are regarded to have left-wing and conservative views respectively. The literature review examines some past refugee policies and how the trend of exclusionary refugee policy continues regardless of Canada’s pledge in the UN to maintain a more open border and criticism from those advancing pro-refugee policies in the country. 

In Canada, the Refugee Act is defined as an “Act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger” (Government of Canada, 2019, p. 1). The Refugee Act gives asylum seekers the right to legally lodge their claims at any “port of entry” in Canada (Government of Canada, 2018, p. 1). Refugees who are applying inside Canada can apply for refugee status in any “airport, seaport, or land border” inside the country (Government of Canada, 2018, p. 1). Canada has received and settled thousands of “refugees from nearly every country” in the world over the years (Schwartz, 2015, p. 1). Refugees often seek new homes due to lack of opportunity or to escape conflict in their home countries. Hence, the movement of refugees from different countries into Canada reflects the history of international crises, such as the Iraq war, and conflict in Chile, Bangladesh in the 70s, Syria, Haiti, Sri Lanka, and more (Schwartz, 2015, p. 1). However, Canada has implemented refugee policies that overtly exclude based on race and nationality.  

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The project examines how the racism and prejudice imposed on some groups of immigrants by the public and mainstream media can enforce exclusionary immigration policy. For instance, in 2012, the construction of refugees in the media led the government to pass Bill C-31 into Canadian law (Diop, 2014, p. 67). As a result, refugees who live in camps abroad were deemed as “good and proper” while those that claimed asylum at the Canadian and US border were labelled as “fraudulent and bogus” (Diop, 2014, p. 67). The new act (Bill C-31) resulted in the systematic exclusion of certain groups of refugees from Canada, based on the discourses of “bogus” and “fraud,” even though some of these asylum seekers may also include genuine refugees (Diop, 2014, p. 67). The action of the Canadian government was justified by the idea that these groups of refugees came to the country to abuse the generosity of the “Canadian system without having grounds for a successful refugee status application” (Diop, 2014, p. 67). This shows how the construction of refugees by the public and mainstream media can exacerbate exclusionary refugee policies based on race, ethnicity, and nationality. This trend continues to the present exclusion of Nigerian refugees who are walking into Canada through the US border. This issue is current and therefore this study presents a timely analysis of print media coverage. 

Research Questions

The central questions that guide this research are: 

  • What kinds of representations of Nigerian asylum seekers who enter Canada via the United States are depicted in the mainstream Canadian print media?
  • What factors have led to what appears to be increased media scrutiny of this group? 

Significance of Study 

The Canadian government has implemented a variety of discriminatory immigration policies over the years in order to exclude refugees from entering the country. The research questions examined in this study are significant because they will help to unveil the discourses of race and nationality inherent in past and present Canadian immigration policies. The research uncovers the racist attitude of Canadians toward refugees by critically examining the language and discourses used by the mainstream media in the country to depict refugees. Canada is a refugee receiving country but the language in the media often constructs refugees as illegal immigrants. 

For instance, the labelling of refugees as criminals and fraudulent ‘others’ led to policy instruments such as Bill C-31 (2012) that enforced the detention of illegal migrants (Diop, 2014, p. 67). Historically, the tension in the public with regard to refugees and the negative construction of refugees in the media has often worked together to define the government’s exclusionary and discriminatory immigration policies. Exposing the processes of the construction and exclusion of refugees is the primary reason why the research questions to be explored in my PRP represent very significant issues for refugees, the Canadian public, and for Canada’s immigration policy regime. 

Chapter Two

 Literature Review

Introduction

Canada signed the Convention on the Status of Refugees in 1969, eighteen years after it was adopted by the United Nations. There are two ways to apply for refugee status in Canada: from outside and inside Canada. This policy gives the right to asylum seekers to become refugee claimants in Canada in three ports of entry including airports, seaports, and land borders. Over the years, Canada has settled thousands of refugees into the country. However, Canada has had some restrictive refugee policies in the past and this trend continues to the present day in the form of restrictive refugee policies that overtly oppose and limit the mobility of refugees from Nigeria from gaining entry into the country. Recently, Canada’s Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, travelled to Nigeria as part of a federal government effort to amend a bilateral agreement with the United States that allows the reduction of American visas to Nigerian applicants through the connection of Canadian immigration officials with U.S. visa officers in Nigeria. This initiative focuses on mitigating the flow of Nigerian asylum claimants who are walking into Canada through the United States. This is not the first time Canada has supported this type of restrictive refugee policy based on nationality. It is important to critically examine the recent quest to stop Nigerian refugees from gaining entry to Canada from the US. 

This literature review highlights some of the arguments about restrictions based on race, ethnicity, and nationality that exist within Canada’s immigration policy. It will focus on why Canada voluntarily signed the Convention on the Status of Refugees and adopted the document and it will question and explore the motives behind Canadian immigration actions. The review will ask questions such as: What are the factors motivating Canada to enact policies such as the recent bilateral agreement with the United States, a policy that impedes the mobility of Nigerian refugee claimants from entering Canada? What are Canada’s approaches to the Safe Third World Country agreement and other restrictive refugee policies based on race, ethnicity, and nationality? What immigration trends led Canada to sign the Safe Third World Country agreement with the United States? Is Canada basing its immigration and refugee policies on human rights and the moral obligation to ensure that asylum seekers receive the adequate services they deserve? Lastly, this review will analyze the history of Canada’s exclusionary immigration policy regime and examine how this can be related to present-day refugee policy in the country.

Refugee Policy

Aiken (2001) states that in 1969 Canada signed the Convention on the Status of Refugees in 1969, eighteen years after it was adopted by the United Nations (p. 1). But it would appear that modern Canada is not implementing appropriate measures to meet its pledges. Instead of protecting refugees, Canada continues to implement exclusionary immigration policies, leading Aiken (2001) to state that “Canadian refugee policy has been [securitized] at the expense of vulnerable refugees and the very objectives the Convention was designed to address” (p. 1). Aiken (2001) argues that Canada’s contemporary record on refugee issues with specific reference to the national security dimension of domestic policy is opposing Canada’s pledge in the Refugee Convention. The author also states that Canada’s approach to refugees is premised on the “overarching objective of bridging the chasm between ‘civilized self and barbaric other,’ of enhancing human security for refugees and the host population alike” (Aiken, 2001, p.1). The binary coded, ‘we-they’ language in this quotation reveals the biases against non-citizens in Canadian immigration policy. In modern days, the distinctions between citizens and “non-citizens are typically characterized as central aspects of state sovereignty” (Aiken, 2001, p. 2). Typically, territorial frontiers maintain absolute control and regulation of the movement of people and determine who does and does not have the “privilege of admission” (Aiken, 2001, p. 2). It is a fact that Canada and many western countries have been restricting the mobility of migrants through immigration policies that exclude on the basis of race, ethnicity and nationality. 

The 1951 Geneva Convention regarding the Status of Refugees requires countries to take a different approach and adopt a better standard of treatment regarding the “class of non-citizens identified as refugees” (Aiken, 2001, p. 2). The main purpose of the Convention was that when human rights protections failed in their home countries, people had the ability “to leave their homeland and seek refuge elsewhere” (Aiken, 2001, p. 2). Countries in the North and South that are sharing borders with each other have erected fences and regulated their borders to protect their citizens from “foreign threats” (Aiken, 2001, p. 3). As a result, refugees are vulnerable to being labelled as a “protean menace” that poses threats to nations’ citizens (Aiken, 2001, p. 2). In contrast to this view of refugees, studies have shown that crime rates amongst refugees and the threat they pose to the “internal security of receiving countries tend to be misjudged and overestimated” (Aiken, 2001, p. 2). According to statistics, refugees and other groups of immigrants are actually less likely to commit major crimes than native-born citizens and are under-represented in the Canadian national prison population (Aiken, 2001, p. 2). However, in Canada and the United States refugees and other groups of immigrants have been “criminalized and securitized” in an attempt to reduce conditions of “turmoil and anxiety” in these countries (Aiken, 2001, p. 2). Refugees are constructed as threats to citizens that deserve to be regulated and restricted, and sometimes even detained illegally. The question is: Do countries like Canada bases their immigration and refugee policies on human rights and the moral obligation to ensure those asylum seekers receive the proper services and protections that they require? The answer to this question appears to be that refuges’ rights, services, and protections are often denied or compromised despite nations’ commitments to the Convention. 

Immigrant Selection Policies

Grubel (2013) argues that the “recent immigrants in Canada impose a fiscal burden on Canadian taxpayers of about $20 billion annually due to the fact that they earn less and pay less taxes than the benefits they receive from government spending” (p. 1). However, it is not clear that this financial calculation is correct, and it may be more rhetoric than reality. Grubel (2013) further argues that refugee classes that do not pass the “points system” impose an especially high financial burden on Canada. And due to the country’s overly generous immigration policies, immigrants and refugees shop for the best deal they can obtain by comparing Canada with the US and European countries (Grubel, 2013, p. 24). This is why asylum seekers sometimes arrive in large numbers on boats, as 76 did in 2009 and 492 in 2010 (Grubel, 2013, p. 24). These were Tamils from Sri Lanka who could have sought refuge in several other countries but chose Canada as their best deal (Grubel, 2013, p. 24). Moreover, Canada’s refugee policies allow applicants to jump the queue by claiming they are fleeing persecution (Grubel, 2013, p. 24). Writers like Grubel (2013) label immigrants with exclusionary and demonizing language such as “illegal aliens” but fail to acknowledge the push factors that force many immigrants to flee their homelands and the factors that make them choose one country over another as their new home.

Canada’s Generosity?

It is important to explore some of the arguments opposing immigration and the admission of large numbers of refugees into Canada. Bissett (2010) criticizes Canada’s refugee system, stating that it does not meet the needs of genuine refugees, costs too much, rewards human smuggling, damages Canada’s relations with other countries, undermine the trade and tourism industries, and damages Canada’s security (1). According to Bisset (2010), Canada allows almost unlimited access for anyone from any country to claim asylum and to apply for refugee status in the country. Applicants are free to enter the country as they claim they are persecuted in their own country. However, many come from countries that share the same democratic traditions as Canada and are signatories to the United Nations Refugee Convention, which obligates them to protect refugees (Bissett, 2010, p. 1). The principles and organization of the asylum system are very weak and cannot clearly identify the genuine refugees from those who abuse the system and avoid normal immigration rules (Bissett, 2010, p. 1). Bissett (2010) claims that the growing number of refugees and the growing costs to Canada are alarming and place an excessive burden on taxpayers’ money (p. 6). Further, the medical and social services used by refugees are rendered unavailable to the Canadian citizens who pay for them. It is estimated that roughly 800,000 refugees have entered Canada in the past twenty years while, at the time when Bisset was writing, more than 70,000 claims were registered in the country in the previous two years (Bissett, 2010, p. 6). Moreover, almost 60,000 claims were waiting to be processed by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) (Bissett, 2010, p. 6). In 2009, Canada was confirmed as the third-largest receiver of asylum seekers “(33,000) in the Western world after the United States (49,000) and France (42,000) (Bissett, 2010, p. 6).  

On a per-capita basis, Canada ranked first as a receiver of asylum seekers with one claim for every 1,000 people compared with the United States with one claim per 11,000 people (Bissett, 2010, p. 6). This made Canada one of the top refugee-receiving countries in the world. From Bissett’s (2010) perspective, one of the most insidious features of Canada’s asylum system is its enormous financial costs and the naïve presumption that the sums involved are justified because we are helping people who simply claim to be refugees. Bissett (2010) states that in 2010 Canada spent up to $117-million for asylum seekers 2010 (p. 6). It was estimated that 60% of asylum seekers will be refused refugee status by the IRB. In 2008, the government estimated that each failed asylum seeker costs $50,000 and one can calculate that in “2008 the taxpayers faced a bill of approximately $1.11-billion just to deal with the number of refused cases in the 2008 flow” (Bissett, 2010, p. 6). The costs of dealing with its failure rate of approximately 60% would be close to $1.8-billion and the accepted refugees cost much more than the refused ones. Of course, these costs will be paid by taxpayer money every year. From one viewpoint, the number of refugees coming into Canada is alarming and illustrates the urgent need for reform.  According to Bissett (2010), “Quebec complained in 2008 that the 6,000 Mexican asylum seekers in that province had cost more than $171-million even though 90 percent of the claims were found to be false” (p. 6). It would be irresponsible for Canada to continue to allow 30,000 to 40,000 people to enter Canada freely each year without first screening them for medical, criminal, or security issues. Bissett (2010) asserts that to assume that all of these people are refugees fleeing torture and death makes a mockery of border control (p. 6).

Refugee Claimant Service  

International Legal Humanitarian Responsibilities 

Abidi and colleagues (2013) claim that Canada has made some positive contributions in terms of refugee policy. Since the recognition of refugees under the UN Constitution, Canada has admitted substantial numbers of refugees. In the 20th century, there were many wars and conflicts around the world that created millions of refugees and Canada accepted large numbers (Abidi et al., 2013, p. 17). As a result, “In 1986, the people of Canada were awarded the UN’s prestigious Nansen medal in “recognition of their major and sustained contribution to the cause of refugees by providing a safe haven to many immigrants and refugees from abroad” (Abidi et al., 2013, p. 17). Canada has a long humanitarian tradition of providing protection to those truly in need and has made major contributions to the task of resettling vulnerable refugee populations. However, the discourse and dehumanization of refugees in the mainstream media led to the exclusionary immigration policy that restricted some groups of refugees from receiving federal healthcare in the country in 2012 (Abidi et al., 2013, p. 57). The author asserts that the opportunities for refugee claimants to share their personal experiences and “dialogue with Canadians and immigrants could also challenge the current political discourse” of labelling them as a burden to Canadian society (Abidi et al., 2013, p. 57). Abidi et al. (2013) also argue that global tension over the “securitization and marketization of migration is manifesting as an anti-refugee ideology” in many western countries (p. 58). Canada is not alone in stigmatizing refugees and creating barriers to settlement and inclusion. The negative representation of refugees in the mainstream media in Canada has somehow translated into public policy that continues to marginalize and criminalize vulnerable populations of refugees. The labelling of refugees as criminals and dangerous ‘others’ led to policy instruments such as Bill C-31 (2012) that enforced the detention of “irregular migrants” (Abidi et al., 2013, p. 28). This law violated the 1951 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Ibidi et al., 2013, p. 28). This legislation enacted new “anti-smuggling” provisions and amended the Balanced Refugee Reform Act before it came into force. It deemed refugee claimants to be from Designated Countries of Origin or to be Designated Foreign Nationals, thereby stigmatizing them as ‘others’ with ‘outsider’ identities who lacked the citizenship rights of Canadian ‘insiders.’

The treatment of some refugee claimants in the country shows how “Canadian migration and refugee policy is rooted in racist and sexist hegemonic systems fuelling the vilification of refugee claimants” (Abidi et al., 2013, p. 58). Explicitly, Canada’s refugee determination system emphasizes the protection of citizens and borders while minimizing or ignoring the international legal humanitarian responsibilities of protecting vulnerable refugees who have been forced to flee their various countries for fear of persecution. Moreover, recent developments recall past incidents of discrimination against refugees, confirming Howard’s (1980) assertion that “if we are to understand current attitudes, we need to understand the historical roots” (p. 330). In 1940, for example, Canada enacted refugee policies that permitted the imprisonment of 2,284 German citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish, who arrived in Canada in three boats from Britain (Abidi et al., p. 13). In 1938, a boat named St Louis sailed from Hamburg with 907 Jewish refugees on board. After being turned away by Cuba, its original destination, the ship sought a haven elsewhere in the Americas (CCR, 2009, p. 1). Canada, like all other countries, refused their admittance. The “ship then returned to Europe where most of the passengers died in the Holocaust” (CCR, 2009, p. 1). These examples show that historical stereotypical representations of certain refugee groups as undesirable have been perpetuated in the present in the form of exclusionary Canadian racism that denies refugee rights and has devastating consequences.

Reform

Collacott (2010) focuses on several issues that have led to exclusionary cuts in healthcare coverage and other social services for refugees in modern Canada. In 2010, the federal government became concerned about the large number of asylum seekers arriving in Canada (Collacott, 2010, p. 110). Mexicans and Roma were the leading groups and became targets for exclusion. Canada’s federal government ignored the fact that the Mexicans were fleeing drug cartel violence while the Roma refugees from the Czech Republic were trying to escape discrimination in their homeland. The government disregarded the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees in its treatment of Mexican and Roma claimants (Collacott, 2010, p. 110). Canada claimed that if the problems faced by them were deemed acceptable grounds for asylum, then “there were undoubtedly millions more around the world entitled to come here as refugees” (Collacott, 2010, p. 111). In response to the large numbers of refugees, Canada introduced restrictive measures (Collacott, 2010, p. 111). Collacott (2010) argues that when Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka arrived in large numbers on boats in 2010 there was agreement among political parties that legislation should place heavy fines and sentences on the organizers, owners, and operators of the ships involved. The bill stipulated that mass asylum seekers reaching Canadian shores can be detained for up to a year in order to determine their identities, admissibility, and possibly illegal activities (Collacott, 2010, p. 112). Restrictive measures were imposed on refugees, especially those from countries that Canada deemed as free of human rights violations (and hence free of a strong motive to flee persecution or violence) such as European countries and Mexico.

Systematic Racism 

Copeland (1998) highlights some of the rationales for restrictive refugee policies in an industrialized country like Canada. Copeland (1998) indicates that the “industrialized countries are faced with increasing numbers of asylum applicants (p. 425). Many asylum seekers have weak or fraudulent claims to protect. In response, industrialized countries “have undertaken a variety of unilateral initiatives aimed at reducing problems stemming from flows of asylum seekers” (Copeland, 1998, p. 425). These countries are working to ensure that they do not become “unwilling hosts to massive flows of asylum seekers. While some of the measures adopted are restrictive, the most worrisome changes are those that deny asylum seekers access to social services” (Copeland, 1998, p. 425). Despite public perceptions of the country as having a generous refugee policy, Canada is not a top refugee-hosting nation. Countries in the Global South host fourth-fifths of all refugees. Copeland (1998) also states that in a 1951 UN Convention “states pledge not to return recognized refugees involuntarily to their country of origin” (Copeland, 1998, p. 426). Canada is sometimes willing to ignore the principles of the UN Convention because Canada’s immigration policy is rooted in “systematic racism [which] is reminiscent to the historical treatment of other groups due to institutional racism” (Copeland, 1998, p. 67). This trend continues to present day exclusionary immigration policies which exclude certain social groups based on race, ethnicity, and nationality. 

Race and Ethnicity: The Chinese  

Anderson (1994) explores the historical context of Canadian immigration policies, showing how nativists classified immigrants based on race and ethnicity, how non-British European immigrants were deemed as non-white in Canada, and how Chinese immigrants coming to Canada to build the railroads were required to pay a head tax (Anderson, 1994, p. 239). As Anderson states, after the completion of the trans-Canada railway in 1885 “the federal government in Ottawa took a decisive step by imposing a head tax on Chinese entrants and in 1903 Wilfred Laurier’s administration raised it to an almost prohibitive level of $500” (Anderson, 1994, p. 225). Chinese immigrants were not only required to pay the head tax but also discriminated against by Canadian nativists. Chinese people were viewed as people who resisted being assimilated and Canadianized. As a result, Chinese immigrants were subjected to victimization by the nativist white community. In response, the Chinese formed Chinatowns as a way to gain solidarity (Anderson, 1994, p. 223). But this only reinforced the notion that they resisted assimilation. In reality, the formation of Chinatowns in Canada was a response to Anglo-Saxon racism and social discrimination. Chinese immigrants were deemed as unwilling to assimilate to Anglo-Canadian norms. There were many biases against the Chinese and nativists viewed immigration in terms of contradictions and conflict between the East and the West. 

The West has traditionally viewed itself as inherently superior and this has led to countless forms of discrimination against non-westerners, including in the area of immigration. Anderson (1994) states, “Chinatown signified no less than the encounter between “West” and “East”; it distinguished and testified to the vast asymmetry between two “races” (Anderson, 1994, p. 235). Canadian nativists classified Chinese people as “non-white, non-Christian, uncivilized and amoral… qualities thought to be in opposition to the European in-group” (Anderson, 1994, p. 235). In Alberta, for instance, Chinese immigrants were accused of being unsanitary and they were highly discriminated against by nativists due to this accusation (Anderson, 1994, p. 223). Nativists also considered Chinese immigrants as drug traffickers and gamblers (Anderson, 1994, p. 240). In 1922, “the federal authorities amended the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act (ONDA) to provide for the deportation of aliens found guilty of any drug offence” (Anderson, 19994, p. 240). And Chinatowns also faced civic vigilance from the RCMP (Anderson, 1994, p. 240). This racism against the Chinese shows that exploitation and marginalization take place not only on capitalist economic grounds; as we see in the Anglo-Canadian stigmatization of the Chinese, Chinese immigrants were deemed on racist grounds to be unwilling to assimilate to Anglo-Canadian norms.

Race and Ethnicity: The Roma 

Levine-Rasky et al. (2014) focus on the ways in which European Roma refugees who came to Canada in 2011 were perceived by the mainstream society and the media. The authors indicate that the arrival of “thousands of European Roma seeking refugee status in Canada elicited a range of legislative and policy instruments that severely restrict their acceptance” and created conditions that opposed further admissions (Levine-Rasky et al., 2014, p. 67). The government implemented intervention strategies which included “visa restrictions, actions by Immigration and Refugee Board, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act followed by the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, and ministerial rhetoric about the illegitimacy of Roma as refugees” (Levine-Rasky et al., 2014, p. 67). Furthermore, government policy allowed the “interpretations of persecution in relation to the Geneva Convention and Protocol, and the implications of the conditions required for membership to the European Union” to determine who could claim refugee status in Canada (Levine-Rasky et al., 2014, p. 67). The conditions placed on Roma refugees determined the acceptance rates of the Roma asylum seekers in Canada. Levine-Rasky et al., (2014) argue that the exclusion of Roma refugees is reminiscent of the historical treatment of other groups of refugees who faced discrimination and exclusion due to the “institutional racism” that is prevalent in Canadian immigration policies (p. 67). For instance, when some groups of Roma refugees arrived in Canada in 2011 the front-page headline of the Toronto Sun read: “Feds vow crackdown as Pearson [Airport] flooded with bogus Hungarian Roma claims” (Levine-Rasky et al., 2014, p. 67). This type of construction of Roma refugees in the media is rooted in the racism that remains prevalent in Canadian society. 

Roma refugees were faced with exclusion as a result of the labels imposed on them by mainstream Canadian society. First, they were seen as a new and unknown immigrant group that came to Canada not because of desperate need but merely due to their “dissatisfaction with their poor conditions in Europe” (Levine-Rasky et al., 2014, p. 67). In addition, there were doubts concerning whether or not Roma qualified as authentic refugees or whether they were a bogus group of refugees. Lastly, some people reasoned that these refugees landed in Canada “to take advantage of the country’s social largesse” during a period of a relatively weak economy; many Canadians were resentful of these asylum-seekers in the harsh economic situation of the time (Levine-Rasky et al., 2014, p. 67). The response to Roma refugees shows how people from non-western countries are subjected to racism and regarded with suspicion by the public.

Media and the Production of Refugee Crises

Gilbert (2013) analyses the discursive representations of Mexican asylum-seekers in 2007 and the subsequent visa policy imposed on Mexicans by the Canadian government. The author argues that the production of a Mexican refugee crisis was depicted in discourses with three basic dimensions: “The labelling of Mexicans as illegal, criminal and fraudulent Others; the perceived exorbitant costs of refugee claims; and the necessity to control ‘illegitimate’ claimants to prevent them from exploiting the deficiencies of the Canadian refugee system” (Gilbert, 2013, p. 827). These constructions of Mexican refugees reveal “overt and inferential forms of racism and challenges to the self-proclaimed tolerance of multicultural Canada” (Gilbert, 2013, p. 827). Gilbert (2013) explores the situation of Mexican refugee claimants in 2007 and shows how these refugees experienced racism from the Canadian public in Windsor. News coverage in Windsor stereotyped the Mexicans as breaking the norms and the law, and therefore deserving to be regulated and illegalized. They were represented as a deviant threat with the citizens of Canada facing the choice of being “victims, or as taking vigorous action against such deviance” (Gilbert, 2013, p. 828). The racist discourse on Mexican refugees justified a 2009 restriction of visa requirements that undermined the proposed Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) (Gilbert, 2013, p. 829). As noted above, Canadian media used three discourses to create the idea of a refugee ‘crisis.’ First, Mexicans were labelled as “illegal criminals and fraudulent others”; second, the financial costs of the Mexican refugee claims were said to be excessive; and the third discourse claimed that it was necessary to stop the Mexicans from “exploiting the deficiencies of the Canadian refugee system” (Gilbert, 2013, p. 829). In most cases, exclusionary government immigration policies are driven by the outcry of the public, but the media also plays a major role in how refugees and other immigrants are discursively constructed. 

A Model System

Alboim (2012) focuses on the rapid change of immigration policies in Canada. In 2012, for instance, the Canadian government enacted legislation stating that refugee claimants from “Designated Countries of Origin” (DCO) were deemed as “irregular arrivals” (Alboim, 2012, p. 12). Asylum seekers from 23 specific countries, which include the Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico, and others, were included in the criteria set out by Immigration Canada as safe countries capable of protecting their own nationals (Alboim, 2012, p. 12). As a result, refugee applicants in Canada were divided into two classes, “bona fide” and “bogus” (Alboim, 2012, p. 12).  In other words, some groups of refugees were regarded as illegitimate. Moreover, the laws for private sponsorship of refugees were tightened and the “Source Country Class was repealed” (Aboim, 2012, p. 5). This legislation limits access to Canadian embassies and “private sponsorship for people in need of protection while in their home countries” (Alboim, 2012, p. 5). Alboim (2012) also states that mandatory detention was imposed for all “irregular arrivals” over the age of sixteen (p. 5). As a result, those deemed as “irregular arrivals” faced delays in accessing permanent residence, family reunification, and travel documents (Alboim, 2012, p. 5). Even those who were determined to be bona fide refugees by the Immigration and Refugee Board were affected by the policy. This detention policy violates the rights of refugees. Problematic changes in policy include differential treatment of refugees based on country of origin and much more difficult procedures for gaining citizenship. Writers such as Alboim (2012) state that Canada’s immigration system has been a model for the world. However, some of the recent proposals to reform immigration policies will have negative consequences on immigrants and Canada’s reputation internationally 

Borders and Barriers 

Arbel (2013) highlights the ways in which many industrial countries like Canada have enacted a variety of barriers to restrict refugees from entering the country. Arbel (2013) focuses on how the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) in North America allows one state party to return refugee claimants back to the other (and vice versa) under certain circumstances (Arbel, 2013, p. 66). These measures have been enacted to enhance border security and promote the orderly handling of refugee claims across the Canada–US border. The STCA “prevents refugee claimants who are in the United States from lodging claims in Canada (and vice versa), subject to certain limited exceptions” (Arbel, 2013, p. 66). 

Canada and the US have an agreement to secure the border to disallow refugee claimants from claiming constitutional protection (Arbel, 2013, p. 66). However, Canada has used a variety of different measures to restrict refugees from entering the country. For example, after the 9/11 attacks in the US, Canada increased its Immigration Control Officers abroad, added Migration Integrity Specialists, and placed Airline Liaison Officers in overseas locations to prevent asylum seekers from reaching Canada (Arbel, 2013, p. 77). Officers overseas are required to provide information about irregular migrants to Canadian authorities and to assist in training airline personnel to detect false documents and suspicious persons. These officers work with embassies, airports, and other organizations to protect the Canadian border. The posting of migration officers in offshore locations is grounded in sanctions that penalize airlines who transport irregular migrants on Canada-bound flights by demanding reimbursement for costs associated with detention (Arbel, 2013, p. 77). Refugees who are fortunate enough to gain asylum inside the country are at risk due to disparities across case adjudicators in the refugee system that can lead to the refusal of bona fide refugees. It should be added that refugees who gain admission into Canada face countless additional barriers – in critical areas such as education and the employment market – once they enter the country and struggle to integrate. 

Hostile Host 

Avery (1995) highlights how hegemony capitalism, Canadian immigration policy, and Anglo-Canadian attitudes led to discrimination against many immigrant groups, such as Jewish immigrants as well as immigrants from China, Japan, Italy, Ukraine, and other countries. Anglo-conformity was the norm of Canadian society and immigrants who were unwilling to assimilate the dominant norms were highly restricted. Some immigration policies involved deporting immigrants to their lands of origin for minor issues or on so-called moral grounds (Avery, 1995, p. 75). The government deported immigrants, including long-time residents of Canada, due to “immorality, child desertion, prostitution, disability, having children out of wedlock, feeble-mindedness, or for minor physical problems such as varicose veins (Avery, 1995, p. 75). Deporting “unfit” immigrants was viewed as nation-building. The Canadian government acted against immigrant protests by outlawing the use of foreign languages in public gatherings of immigrants. For instance, in 19 18 the dominion government was under great pressure to place all foreign workers under supervision. The government responded by implementing new measures that suppressed all foreign-language newspapers and foreign-language press and some socialist and anarchist organizations were outlawed. Penalties for violating these measures range from $5,000 to a maximum prison term of five years (Avery, 1995, p.75). Even when the Canadian government made some efforts to protect immigrant labor, many companies continued to mistreat the workers. Some immigrant workers actually faced workplace fatalities, and one-quarter of the fatalities took place at Canadian railway companies (Avery, 1995, p. 40). It was very obvious that Canadian immigration policies were used to acquire cheap immigrant labor and this labor faced exploitation and discrimination within Canada.

Irregular Border Crossing 

  Barrett (2018) examines the irregular border crossings of asylum seekers from the United States into Canada between late 2016 and early 2018 (p. 4). The author also looks at the legal terms and geopolitical conditions that led to the migration of refugees into Canada. Barrett (2018) depicts the ways in which policies in the United States and Canada – such as the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States as well as the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) – impact asylum-seekers who are crossing the border for protection (Barrett, 2018, p. 4). Arbel (2013) similarly states that the STCA “prevents refugee claimants who are in the United States from lodging claims in Canada (and vice versa), subject to certain limited exceptions” (p. 66). Canada and the US have an agreement to secure the border to disallow refugee claimants from claiming constitutional protection (Arbel, 2013, p. 66). Barrett (2018) indicates that the vast majority of asylum-seekers movement is concentrated at the New York-Quebec border and states that these vulnerable refugees are fleeing the United States for a safe haven on Canadian soil (p. 11). According to Barrett’s (2018) research, the majority of the asylum-seekers who embarked on the journey from the United States to Canada between 2017-2018 were of Haitian origin. The first wave of Haitians into Canada in 2017 was motivated by Trump’s anti-immigration policy in the US.  

The refugees, who fled the US as a result of the fear that they would soon lose their TPS in the US under the incoming Trump administration and face a high risk of deportation (Barrett, 2018, p. 11). In 2017, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Trump administration announced the termination of Haiti’s TPS designation as well as the TPS status of other countries such as Sudan, Nicaragua, and El Salvador (Barrett, 2018, p. 11). Trump’s anti-immigration policy exacerbated the influx of refugees from the US into Canada. However, the Canadian government took a drastic measure to reduce the issuing of visas for Nigerians in the US embassy in Nigeria. This measure ignores the influx of other people of other nationalities that are also involved in irregular border crossings. The question is whether or not the quest to reduce Nigerian refugees into Canada is motivated by racism. What are the reasons that led Canada to continuously exclude groups of refugees based on the factors of race and nationality?

Gaps in Literature

There is a gap in the literature on why disproportionate attention has been given to Nigerian refugees in Canada, and this has motivated me to choose this topic as an area of study.  My literature review shows a significant gap in the literature about Nigerian refugees in Canada.  However, all the literature discussed about Canadian exclusionary refugee policy based on race and nationality.  For instance, Collacott (2010) article explores the ways in which Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka arrived in large numbers on boats in 2010. There was agreement among political parties that legislation should place heavy fines and sentences on the organizers, owners, and operators of the ships involved. The bill stipulated that mass asylum seekers reaching Canadian shores can be detained for up to a year in order to determine their identities, admissibility, and possibly illegal activities (Collacott, 2010, p. 112).  The federal government implemented the bill to target Tamil asylum seekers who are entering the country through the shores. Restrictive measures were imposed on refugees, especially those from countries that Canada deemed as free of human rights violations (and hence free of a strong motive to flee persecution or violence) such as European countries and Mexico. 

Just like the Tamil asylum seekers, online news articles show that Nigerian refugees are similarly experiencing exclusionary immigration policy based on nationality in Canada. Even though Nigeria is deemed as a country with human rights violations. The government of Canada is currently using some new tactics to strategize with the US embassy in Nigeria to reduce visa acceptance to Nigerians who are seeking visas to the United States. A logical way of reducing Nigerian asylum seekers from using US visas and finding their way into Canada through the US and Canadian border

Additionally, Gilbert (2013) article also focuses on the discursive representations of Mexican asylum-seekers in 2007 and the subsequent visa policy imposed on Mexicans by the Canadian government. In this case, the Mexican refugee crisis was depicted in discourses with three basic dimensions: “The labelling of Mexicans as illegal, criminal and fraudulent Others; the perceived exorbitant costs of refugee claims; and the necessity to control ‘illegitimate’ claimants to prevent them from exploiting the deficiencies of the Canadian refugee system” (Gilbert, 2013, p. 827).  Gilbert (2013) argues that the construction of Mexican refugees reveals “overt and inferential forms of racism and challenges to the self-proclaimed tolerance of multicultural Canada” (p. 827). The news coverage in Windsor also stereotyped the Mexicans as breaking the norms and the law, and therefore deserving to be regulated and illegalized (Gilbert, 2013, p. 828). They were represented as a deviant threat with the citizens of Canada facing the choice of being “victims, or as taking vigorous action against such deviance” (Gilbert, 2013, p. 828).

 The racist discourse on Mexican refugees justified a 2009 restriction of visa requirements that undermined the proposed Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) (Gilbert, 2013, p. 829). As noted above, Canadian media used three discourses to create the idea of a refugee ‘crisis.’ First, Mexicans were labelled as “illegal criminals and fraudulent others”; second, the financial costs of the Mexican refugee claims were said to be excessive; and the third discourse claimed that it was necessary to stop the Mexicans from “exploiting the deficiencies of the Canadian refugee system” (Gilbert, 2013, p. 829). The history of Mexican refugees in Windsor is similar to how Nigerian refugees are depicted in the mainstream media lately. In most cases, exclusionary government immigration policies are driven by the outcry of the public, but the media also plays a major role in how refugees and other immigrants are discursively constructed. Given that there is a gap in the literature about the discourse of Nigerian refugees in the media lately, this has motivated me to focus my research on this group of refugees in Canada.  

To read the full article, contact Nekpen Obasogie at nebotv99@gmail.com

Chapter Four

Findings, Discussion and Conclusion

This chapter presents key findings of a critical discourse analysis of print media articles focused on Nigerian asylum seekers and how they are depicted in the mainstream print media sources. These sources are: The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail.  From the data emerged several common themes related to the research questions. These six themes are: 1) Abuse of US Visa System; 2) Irregular Arrival; 3) Influx of Refugees; 4) Trump Factor; 5) Irregular Border Crossing, and 6) Financial Burden of Settling Refugees. 

Abuse of US Visa System 

Canada is not always friendly towards refuge claimants and finds justification for rejecting them. Recently, Canada has claimed that refugees were using US visas to gain entry into Canada. In response, placed visa restrictions on any Nigerian citizen deemed at “high risk” of crossing illegally into Canada through the US border. The Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, stated that asylum in Canada is “not a shortcut to bypass regular immigration procedures” (Banerjee, 2018, p. 1). The Minister’s remarks fail to acknowledge the legality of seeking refugee status in Canada. The Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, visited Nigeria in May 2018 as a part of a “federal government effort to contain the surge of asylum seekers” (Globe and Mail). Nigerian government officials promised to deter Nigerian asylum seekers from using the US as a transit point to cross into Canada and lodge their claims.

 These recent developments recall past incidents of discrimination against refugees. According to Howard (2008), “if we are to understand current attitudes, we need to understand the historical roots” (p. 330). The history of immigration policies in Canada shows how the Government of Canada has continuously implemented refugee policies that discriminate based on race and nationality. The trend continues to present restrictive refugee policies that overtly oppose and limit the mobility of refugees from Nigeria seeking entry into Canada. Minister Hussen’s mission to amend a bilateral agreement with the US sought to reduce American visas given to Nigerian applicants (through connections between Canadian immigration officials with US visa officers in Nigeria). This represents an effort to reduce the flow of Nigerian asylum seekers walking into Canada through the land border with the US. Canada’s response to the arrival of Nigerian refugees exemplifies how the labelling of refugees in the mainstream media can shape both government policy and citizen perceptions regarding certain groups of refugees who are coming into the country for protection. The recent exclusionary refugee policy imposed on Nigerian refugees is reminiscent of the past restrictive immigration policies in Canada.

 In 2007, media depictions of Mexican refugee claimants show how this group of asylum seekers faced racism from the Canadian public in Windsor. News coverage in Windsor stereotyped the Mexicans as law-breakers outside Canadian norms. They were represented as a deviant threat, with the citizens of Canada facing the choice of being “victims, or as taking vigorous action against such deviance” (Gilbert, 2013, p. 828). The racist discourse on Mexican refugees justified a 2009 visa requirement restriction that undermined the proposed Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) (Gilbert, 2013, p. 829). The treatment of Mexican refugees exemplifies the current response to Nigerian refugees in Canada. As a result of the arrival in the country of significant numbers of refugees – specifically those from Nigeria – the federal government of Canada is now pushing to renew the STCA. The STCA was implemented in December 2004 by Canada and the US to recognize each other as safe countries for refugee claimants seeking protection (Banerjee, 2018, p. 2). However, the STCA has been under serious scrutiny by pro-immigration advocates. They claim that the principles of STCA violate the rights of refugees to lodge claims between the Canadian and US borders (Banerjee, 2018, p. 2). The renewing the STCA would not affect only Nigerian refugees, but all refugees of different nationalities who cross from the US to Canada through the land border. The only tactic Canada can use to restrict Nigerian refugees is the ongoing visa restriction imposed on them in the US embassy in Nigeria. 

The racialization of many migrants denies opportunity, perpetuates social inequality, and inhibits migrants from contributing their energy and skills to Canada. Immigration law in Canada has created “mechanisms that perpetuate inequality and racism in a country where migrants have historically been racialized” (Sanchez & Romero, 2010, p. 781). In many Western countries, immigration legislation and reform has had the ultimate goal of excluding and restricting immigrants defined as not-white “from the definition of what constitutes legality and citizenship – in a way, immigration law becomes another way to impose whiteness onto people of color” (Sanchez & Romero, 2010, p. 781). The media construction of refugees and the government’s reaction to the recent arrival of Nigerian refugees in the country shows how Canada is, at times, a reluctant host of refugees.

Irregular Arrivals   

Recently, the Nigerian refugees who came through the land border with the US into the country were deemed as “irregular arrivals” by the Federal Government of Canada. As a result, the federal government imposed visa restrictions on Nigerian citizens who apply for US visas in Nigeria. “Irregular arrivals” means that many of the refugees who came to Canada from the US were smuggled in by cartels. This is not the first time such a restrictive refugee policy based on nationality has been implemented in Canada. In 2012, for instance, Canada enacted Bill C-31 that enforced the detention of refugees who came to Canada as “irregular arrivals” (Alboim, 2012, p. 12). This bill permits the detention of Roma asylum seekers, including their children, in Canada. However, the bill was later overturned

 In 2012, the Canadian government enacted legislation stating that refugee claimants from “Designated Countries of Origin” (DCO) were deemed as “irregular arrivals” (Alboim, 2013, p. 12). Asylum seekers from 23 specific countries, which include the Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico, and others, were included in the criteria set out by Immigration Canada as safe countries capable of protecting their own nationals. As a result, refugee applicants in Canada were divided into two classes, “bona fide” and “bogus.” (Alboim, 2012, 12).  In other words, some groups of refugees were regarded as acceptable while others were deemed illegitimate. This 2012 legislation enacted new “anti-smuggling” provisions and amended the Balanced Refugee Reform Act before it came into force (Alboim, 2012, p. 12). It deemed refugee claimants to be from Designated Countries of Origin or to be Designated Foreign Nationals who came to Canada as “irregular arrivals” (Alboim, 2012, p. 12). According to Alboim (2012), Canada’s immigration system has been a model for the world, but some of the recent proposals to reform immigration policies will have negative consequences on immigrants and Canada’s reputation internationally (p. 2). Problematic changes in policy include differential treatment of refugees based on country of origin and much more difficult citizenship procedures for some than for others (Alboim, 2012, p. 2)). The current situation of refugees in Canada is reminiscent of past exclusionary immigration policies; the discursive construction of Nigerian refugees as “irregular arrivals” shows how some groups of refugees are labelled and excluded based on race and nationality in Canada. 

Influx of Refugees

The entry of large numbers of refugees into Canada has been deemed an “influx of refugees” by the Government of Canada. The Federal Minister of Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, ignored the rights of refugees to lodge claims in Canada and depicts the entry of Nigerian refugees into Canada through the US as an “influx of refugees” (Banerjee, 2018, p. 1). Canada should take cognizance of the fact that the large numbers of refugees coming into the country consist of different nationals (Haiti and Nigeria are the largest source countries for refugee claimants entering Canada) who are fleeing their various home countries due to different forms of persecution (Woods, 2018, p. 2). The notion of labelling all refugees as “irregular arrivals” can negatively affect or undermine the rights of many asylum seekers with legitimate claims.  Canada’s exclusionary immigration laws and policies are driven by racial consciousness and racism. Past and present immigration policies in Canada show how Canada continues to implement policies that constantly impose racial discrimination on immigrants. According to Sanchez and Romero (2010), the social construction of people based on race and nationality is very problematic in the current “context of globalization, where specific migrant populations have become target of specific forms of violence on the basis of their racialization” (p. 779). Jorgensen and Phillips (2002) argue that the “hierarchical manner” in which national identities are constructed ultimately led to the division of the world into nation-states (p. 2). Whites are at the top of the hierarchical structure of the world and this stems from racism and racist attitudes in the West towards people from non-White countries. According to Sanchez and Romero (2010), the most prevalent characteristic of the racial order of the world is the “history of whiteness as central to defining citizenship eligibility” (p. 780). Clearly, the race has played a prominent role in shaping Canada’s “immigration policy and society’s choices of exclusion or inclusion practices is central in comprehending migrant choices” (Sanchez & Romero, 2010, p. 780). 

Trump Factor Theory 

The Federal Government of Canada has blamed US President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policy for throwing Canada’s refugee system into turmoil. The movement of refugees into Canada increased after Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants from Haiti, Salvador, and other countries hoping to enter the US (Paperny, 2018, p. 3). The Canadian government has discussed the situation with the Trump administration, explaining how the immigration policy in the US is affecting the Canadian refugee system. However, no effective action has been taken to deal with this issue in the US. While Canada blames Trump’s anti-immigration policy for plunging the Canadian immigration policy into a state of chaos, Jean-Nicolas Beuze, the President of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Canada, opposed the “Trump factor theory,” claiming that the recent influx of asylum seekers in Canada is related to the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s generous and welcoming messaging about immigrants in the country (Wright, 2018, p. 3). The Prime Minister’s benevolent message about immigrants plays a role in the increasing rate of immigrants coming into the country. The government agencies who are currently working with the US embassy in Nigeria also claim that the reason why Nigerian refugees are passing through the US to Canada is that the US visa system is more generous than Canada’s. It seems that Canada is uncertain about the real – perhaps multiple – causes of the sudden wave of refugees seeking entry into the country. 

Irregular Border Crossing

The discourse about refugees in the mainstream media perpetuates stereotypes of all refugees who enter Canada via the land border with the US as irregular border crossers. The Canadian government and the media constructed the notion of “illegal border crossings” by claiming that thousands of asylum seekers pose a significant threat to the security of the nation. They argue that advocates of liberal immigration are foolish to downplay the danger these immigrants are imposing on the country (Crowley, 2018, p. 2). The labelling of refugees as potentially dangerous illegal border crossers ultimately undermines the rights of refugees to lodge claims in any port of entry as stipulated in the Canadian Refugee Act. Canada ignores the fact that some refugee claimants face serious persecution in their homelands. For instance, many Nigerians are fleeing the violence of the terrorist group Boko Haram and other forms of systemic persecution in Nigeria. Since they find US visas to be more generous than those of Canada, the majority of them consider the US as a transit point on the way to Canada (Wright, 2018, p. 2). The threat of killer herdsmen in Nigeria led to the mass migration of people out of the country to the US and Canada. Some of these refugees used the threat of killer herdsmen in Nigeria to justify their illegal crossing of the border from the US into Canada (Valiante, 2018, p. 1). A Nigerian asylum seeker who crossed illegally from the US into Canada stated that he did so to escape the threat of armed herdsmen (Valiante, 2018, p. 1). The killer herdsmen in the northern part of the country “threaten southern farmers and sometimes murder them” (Valiante, 2018, p. 1). The question is whether or not the Canadian government cares about the high rate of persecution and human rights violations taking place in Nigeria?

  While the stories of Nigerian refugees are supported by proof, the Canadian government continues to turn a deaf ear on the grievances of this group of refugees. Often, crises in the global South are unattended to by the rest of the world, due to the hierarchal division of the world. In 2010, the federal government became concerned about the large number of asylum seekers arriving in Canada. Mexicans and Roma were the leading groups and became targets. Canada’s federal government ignored the fact that Mexicans were fleeing drug cartel violence while the Roma from the Czech Republic faced discrimination in their homeland. The government disregarded the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees in its treatment of Mexican and Roma claimants (Collacott, 2010, p. 110). Canada claimed that if the problems faced by them were deemed acceptable grounds for asylum, “there were undoubtedly millions more around the world entitled to come here as refugees” (Collacott, 2010, p. 111). In response to the large numbers of refugees, Canada introduced restrictive immigration measures (Collacott, 2010, p.111). 

As an example of Canada’s restrictive immigration measures, when Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka arrived in large numbers on boats in 2010 there was agreement among political parties that legislation should place heavy fines and sentences on the organizers, owners, and operators of the ships involved (Collacott, 2010, p. 112). A bill was passed that stipulated that mass asylum seekers reaching Canadian shores can be detained for up to a year in order to determine their identities, admissibility, and possibly illegal activities (Collacott, 2010, p. 112). Restrictive measures such as these have been imposed on many refugees, especially those from countries that Canada has deemed as free of human rights violations such as European countries and Mexico. 

Financial Burden of Settling Refugees 

The Canadian government has historically argued that the arrival of refugees in the country has placed an excessive financial burden on Canadian taxpayers. Due to the costs of settling refugees, provincial governments often seek assistance from the federal government to accommodate the refugees in their various communities (Paperny, 2018, p. 1). The issue boils down to figuring out the number of refugees that the provincial governments feel they can settle into their provinces without financial support from the federal government. Many settlement agencies also struggle to accommodate asylum-seekers because of the shortage of accommodations in the four leading cities that accept refugees (Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Toronto), which have been affected most strongly by the new migration wave (Paperny, 2018, p. 3). The issue of financial costs is one of the reasons that led Canada to implement a restrictive immigration policy to curtail the mobility of Nigerians who are deemed as being at high risk of using the US as part of their transit route to Canada. In 2010, Canada’s federal government became concerned about the large number of asylum seekers arriving in Canada. 

Mexicans and Roma were the leading groups and became targets (Collacott, 2010, p. 110). As a result, the government implemented an exclusionary healthcare policy to target some groups of refugees that were constructed by the Canadian government as “bogus” refugees. The Canadian government implemented a restrictive refugee policy to reduce financial burdens on the healthcare system since many citizens believe the taxpayers who pay for the system should be first in line for its services. The cuts to health coverage have, in particular, “denied refugees access to primary and preventive care” (Stanbrook, 2014, P.1). The “federal government claims that the changes are saving $20 million annually”, but the cuts in healthcare placed a high costs on provincial governments (Stanbrook, 2014, P.1).  Bissett (1010) criticizes Canada’s refugee system, stating that it does not meet the needs of genuine refugees, costs too much, rewards human smuggling, and damages Canada’s relations with other countries, undermine the trade and tourism industries and damages Canada’s security (p. 1). Grubel (2013) similarly asserts that recent immigrants in the country impose a “fiscal burden on Canadian taxpayers of about $20 billion annually due to the fact that they earn less and pay less taxes than the benefits they receive from government spending” (p. 1). It is not clear that this dollar figure is correct and it may be more rhetoric than reality. 

Grubel (2013) further argues that refugee classes that do not pass the “points system” impose a financial burden on Canada. And due to the overly generous immigration policies, refugees shop for the best deal by comparing Canada with the US and European countries (p. 24). This is why asylum seekers sometimes arrive in large numbers on boats, as 76 did in 2009 and 492 in 2010 (Grubel, 2013, p. 24). These were Tamils from Sri Lanka who could have sought refuge in several other countries (Grubel, 2013, p. 24). Moreover, Canada’s refugee policies allow applicants to claim they are fleeing persecution while jumping the queue (Grubel, 2013, p. 24). The prejudice imposed on some groups of immigrants enforces the binary discourse of refugees as bogus or bona fide and leads to the refusal of healthcare for many vulnerable refugees, especially those that are obviously in need of care such as children and pregnant women. One must ask: Do the savings from the cuts of healthcare for refugees costs less than the negative impact of the cuts?

Perpetuation of Racist Discourses by Mass Media

These terms were persistent in the articles as Nigerian refugees who came to Canada through the border from the United States were scrutinized. It is evident that Canadian media continue to use exclusionary language to address the arrival of refugees in the country even though the Nigerian asylum seekers from the United States have the legal right to lodge their claims in the country. Language is important. The labelling of refugees as fraudulent others by some government officials and mainstream media tends to undermine the legality and definition of refugees in the Canadian Refugee Act. Jorgensen and Phillips (2002) argue that language plays a large role in shaping “peoples’ understanding and interpretations of reality and aspects of reality” about social issues in society (p. 2). In fact, the discourse and social construction of national identities, especially the representation of refugees in the mainstream print media, can exacerbate negative views of refugees amongst citizens and contribute to exclusionary government refugee policies in the country.

Racialized Immigrants and Government’s Exclusionary Immigration Policy 

It was the racism historically embedded in Canadian immigration policy that led to exclusionary immigration policies based on race and nationality. In a contemporary context, the quest to regulate the influx of Nigerian refugees into the country is another form of discriminatory racial prejudice that has been imposed on certain groups of refugees over the years in Canada. To understand immigration approaches, it is necessary to recognize that various forms of citizenship status stem from the “delineation of rights, privileges, and penalties relative to property, taxes, welfare, and the freedom of movement across nation states” (Romero, 2008, p. 27). Unfortunately, international citizenship rights do not yet exist to ensure that refugees have rights and free mobility in all countries of the world.

  The passport system and the demand for other identification documents have been a crucial way to regulate peoples’ movements across geographical borders, including immigrants’ right to leave or return to their homeland as well as their ability to travel within certain spaces (Remero, 2008, p. 27). Critical Race Theory (CRT) places issues of race at the center of critical theoretical analysis and reveals the ways in which “racialized immigration laws and citizenship distinctions allow physical appearance to serve as a way of controlling certain racial and ethnic groups” (Remero, 2008, p. 27). Indeed, the simultaneous social construction of race has been noted by critical race legal studies of the issue of migration (Remero, 2008, p.27). It is not surprising that Nigerian refugees and other groups of immigrants in Canada have experienced different forms of discrimination in Canada as a result of race-related issues because Canada has a long history of racial discrimination against immigrants in the country. Romero (2008) argues that the legal construction of race in accordance with racial categories has been a major factor used to specify “citizenship privileges and restrictions” in Canadian immigration policy (Remero, 2008, p. 27). Garcia (1995) similarly argues that immigration law and politics have been “historically intertwined with racial prejudice” over the years (Garcia, 1995, p. 119). Historically, it is evident that racialized bodies have been constituted as the other, as subjects “to be regulated, controlled, and saved within the colonial project by whites” (Badwall, 2015, p. 443).

 Racialized bodies are often subjected to constant regulation by institutions. The racism and systemic discrimination that are prevalent in institutions in North America place minorities and racialized immigrants in a powerless position.  Despite the end of legally sanctioned racial discrimination in the 1960s, immigration rhetoric continued to manifest “overt racist overtones” (Garcia, 1995, p. 119). However, starting in the 1990s many politicians and lawmakers began to emphasize the difference between “legal” and “illegal” immigration to address the anxieties amongst mainstream society regarding the changing racial make-up of the country (Garcia, 1995, p. 119). This approach seems to suggest that the racist motivations of past immigration law and policy was not completely displaced by impartial and racially neutral law and order; rather, newer immigration law and policy continued to be “motivated by a drive for cultural and racial homogeneity” (Garcia, 1995, p. 119). The dominant white society seeks to retain its domination.

In an American context, the implementation of exclusionary immigration policy in the US was exacerbated by the outcry of a group of concerned California residents who were fed up with immigrants in the state in mid-1993 (Garcia, 1995, p. 118). This group blamed what they called “illegal aliens” for using the state’s resources in a variety of ways (Garcia, 1995, p. 119). The frustrated California residents who were opposed to immigration argued that immigrant children were crowding their “children out of public schools, crowding welfare offices, and crowding the emergency rooms of hospitals” (Garcia, 1995, p. 118). To address this problem, these angry citizens mobilized a movement against immigrants. They saw themselves as the last hope for California, which they viewed as “economically battered and bleeding from tax revolts, race revolts, natural disasters, and the crash of the defence industry” (Garcia, 1995, p. 118). Indeed, the outcry from these citizens gave rise to what was called the “Save Our State” (SOS) movement (Garcia, 1995, p. 118). The government responded to the SOS movement by including on the 1994 California ballot a proposal that would “deny undocumented immigrants the few public benefits to which they [were] legally entitled” (Garcia, 1995, p. 118). The colonial view that whites had to save non-whites had transformed into the view that whites had to be saved from non-whites. 

In the case of Nigerian refugees in Canada, the government legally imposed deportation on Nigerian nationals who came through the border from the United States. The inflow of a large number of refugees from Nigeria exacerbated low acceptance rates amongst Nigerian refugee claimants and deportation was the end result of rejected claims (Woods, 2018, p. 1). The ways in which the Canadian government responded to the arrival of Nigerian people shows how anti-immigration measures are racially motivated, especially by the fear that non-whites change – and negatively impact – the racial landscape of predominantly white nations. The fearsome Californians had regarding immigrants using state resources is reflected in contemporary Canada. The quest to impede the mobility of Nigerian refugees from gaining entry into Canada is deeply rooted in racism and racial discrimination against immigrants based on race and nationality. 

Implications and Recommendations for Further Research

Given the exclusionary functioning of Canadian immigration policy in the past and present, a paradigm shift is needed. Research is required to assess the future impact of Canadian policy on the mobility of Nigerian refugees seeking entry into Canada. This research should focus on how the US embassy in Nigeria collaborates with the Canadian government and the how immigration policy impacts Nigerian visa applicants. Research should be conducted around how the negative representation of Nigerian refugees in the media and the exclusionary government policies imposed on certain groups of refugees and immigrants are based on discrimination and racism. Specific polices should be subjected to critical analysis. For example, the Canadian government’s bi-literal agreement to regulate US visas for Nigerian applicants affects Nigerian refugees who are already in the country. Research on this phenomenon could show why a new paradigm of immigration policy is needed in Canada to uphold the mobility and rights of refugees at the border and once they have crossed the border and entered Canada.

Conclusion

Most immigrants migrate out of their homelands to escape conflict or to gain economic opportunities in wealthy western nations. Most often, racialized immigrants, especially those from the global South, encounter different forms of discrimination due to the hierarchal structure of the world. For example, the introduction of the passport system has led to the devaluation of some documents deemed as inadmissible in the West. Canada argues that allowing immigrants to bypass the immigration system by means of illegal border crossing gives opportunities to some self-selecting queue-jumpers who abuse the generosity of the Canadian migration system (Crowley, 2018, p. 2). But refugees have the legal right to lodge claims at the border. Social, economic, and political issues subject disproportionate numbers of people from the global South, such as refugees and other groups of immigrants, to discrimination and exclusion in the West. 

The Nigerian refugees who crossed from the US into Canada claimed that they fled their country due to the threat of Boko Haram. But this led to the exclusion of Nigerian citizens seeking US visas in Nigeria, which reflects the historical and ongoing colonial power dynamics that shape mobility and the crossing of national and geographical borders in our increasingly globalized world. The West continues to establish western “hegemony not only politically, economically and militarily but also culturally and ideologically” (Prasad, 2003, p. 5). The current power relations of the world strongly resemble those of the colonial era because power remains concentrated in the hands of western leaders who are using public policies to suppressed racialized groups. 

Social workers who are providing services to immigrants should be cognizant of the construction of racialized immigrants especially, refugees from the global south who are most likely to be vulnerable to negative stereotypes by the mainstream media and government exclusionary immigration policy in Canada. The Canadian Refugee Act proclaimed refugees as individuals who are fleeing their homelands as a result of persecution. But, in reality, some of these groups of refugee claimants are faced with discrimination and exclusionary immigration policies as soon as they step their feet into Canadian soil. Cutting funding for immigrant settlement organizations can be very challenging for many social workers that are providing services for these immigrants. Nevertheless, immigrants’ past and present histories of racial discrimination should be taken into account when providing services for these groups of immigrants.  Social workers have the duty of identifying gaps in the system and advocating for policies to meet the needs of vulnerable immigrants (racialized migrants).

To read the full article, contact Nekpen Obasogie at nebotv99@gmail.com

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