POLITICS

How Trudeau Should Respond To Trump's Muslim Refugee Ban. It Doesn't Involve Twitter

02/02/2017 05:01 EST | Updated 02/06/2017 02:39 EST

Ehsan Abedi is a married, 33-year-old accountant who lives near High Park in Toronto's west end. He loves Canada so much he says he's proud to pay taxes.

He is also a refugee from Iran.

That means Abedi would fall under both parts of Donald Trump's border ban, which blocks entry of passport holders from seven Muslim-majority countries for three months, and bars all refugees from entering for 120 days. Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely.

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Eshan Abedi and his wife Arezoo Tehrani at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto (Photo courtesy of Eshan Abedi)

Abedi is in Canada because he was involved in Iran's 2009 Green Revolution. In the wake of a disputed presidential election, thousands of Iranians took to the streets in protest. Instead of sticking to his day job, ignoring public unrest, Abedi joined demonstrations advocating for democratic reform. They failed.

"I was part of that group and after the revolution the government started to arrest all the people who were involved," Abedi tells the Huffington Post Canada. "So based on those activities I had to leave the country."

Abedi was able to lie low for a few years but it was "so scary," he says. "You don't know [what will happen]. You are at home. They knock on the door. You open the door and they arrest you. There is no charging. Nothing. They can arrest you for any reason."

Eventually he escaped to Canada where he applied for asylum at customs and was taken in by Matthew House, a Toronto-based organization that provides shelter for non-sponsored refugees. Abedi was eventually granted refugee status and went back to school to certify his accounting skills.

"You are at home. They knock on the door. You open the door and they arrest you. There is no charging. Nothing. They can arrest you for any reason."
— Ehsan Abedi, Iranian refugee

He got a job and, two years later, his wife was able to join him. Abedi says “regular people” just like them are who Trump is punishing. Though initially shocked by the U.S. president's executive order, his spirits were raised by Trudeau's tweet seen round the world.

"Honestly, I'm so happy that I'm living in a country that he's my prime minister. When I see that government supports me, and they don't care what my religion is, I will respect that government and I will do whatever that I can to help this society," he says.

"[Trudeau] showed his feelings to the people. I think it's so important that Trump understands that other countries will not be quiet."

But so far, feelings are all the prime minister has shown.

"[Trudeau] showed his feelings to the people. I think it's so important that Trump understands that other countries will not be quiet."
— Ehsan Abedi, Iranian refugee

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), says initial responses — at a rhetorical level — are important in messaging. She worries what repercussions Trump's executive order might have on other countries' refugee resettlement plans.

"People understand the importance of showing solidarity with refugees at this time. Of course, the next thing is in terms of policy what does this mean?"

So far immigration minister Ahmed Hussen, himself a former refugee from Somalia, one of the seven countries on Trump's travel ban list, has rejected all calls for action. He insists Canada has "an immigration plan that we intend to stick to."

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Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen arrives at a news conference on Jan. 29. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Dench recommends breaking away from that plan, noting prior concerns such as the number of government-assisted refugees being reduced to 7,500; and privately sponsored numbers dropping to 16,000 — despite 45,000 private sponsorship applications still in process at the end of 2016.

"Canada could also offer, along with other resettlement countries, to take in at least some of those people who have had the door slammed shut on them by the U.S.," she says. "People who have been all the way through the process for resettlement, who have cleared all the hoops and done all the security screening and have been living with that expectation of being resettled, and may be in a situation of great precariousness."

Another major CCR issue is the Safe Third Country Agreement because, Dench notes, "we cannot in confidence say the United States is going to be able to safely protect anybody who needs refugee protection."

This concern is shared by Matthew House founding director Anne Woolger, who has helped settle nearly 4,000 refugees since 1988 and considers the Trump ban "absurd and sad."

"[Trudeau] showed his feelings to the people. I think it's so important that Trump understands that other countries will not be quiet."
— Ehsan Abedi, Iranian refugee

In the past would-be asylum seekers could come to Canada from anywhere but that changed in 2004 with the Safe Third Country Agreement, she says. Now anyone making a refugee claim at the U.S. border, except unaccompanied minors or those with close relatives, is turned back because the U.S. is considered "safe" for refugees.

But with the safety of refugees in Trump's America called into question, Woolger and others are calling for immediate change. Though withdrawing from the agreement would require six months notice, it has a provision allowing for an immediate three-month suspension.

The effect, Woolger says, would be "asylum seekers in the U.S. would be able to come to our border, say 'help I'm a refugee, can I get the protection of Canada?' and Canada would at least let them in to have a proper hearing before an immigration court." She would also like to see Trudeau take in those refugees currently being blocked by Trump to "show Canada as a leader in this."

muslim ban protest toronto A massive protest against President Trump's travel ban outside of the U.S. Consulate in downtown Toronto on Jan. 30. (Getty)

Patrick Akera, Woolger's coworker at Matthew House and a refugee who came to Canada seeking asylum from government persecution in Uganda, sees this as a moral issue. (Akera's name has been changed.)

"It is very cruel for leaders, or even citizens, to say we cannot take in these refugees, we've done enough," he says, adding he’s been encouraged by protests that have erupted in response.

"Canada is a country founded on the backs of immigrants so I couldn't see Canadians standing by or just keeping quiet. It's just natural that Canadians would come out to stand with those that are affected in the U.S. It's a good thing, to show a unity of purpose and also of identity."

"If Canada is really standing up to Trump, it must start with opening the borders to migrants and refugees fleeing violence."

Those will continue, fuelled further by recent tragedy at a Quebec City mosque. Refugee advocacy group No One Is illegal joined with Black Lives Matter and dozens of other groups to organize National Days of Action Against Islamophobia & White Supremacy beginning with protests scheduled across the country for February 4.

The group also launched a petition to convince the Trudeau government to revoke the Safe Third Country Agreement and give "special humanitarian consideration of applicants coming from the U.S.," among other asks. It gathered nearly 40,000 signatures in just a few days.

"Trudeau and Minister Hussen are relying platitudes over policy," says No One Is Illegal's Sharmeen Khan. "If Canada is really standing up to Trump, it must start with opening the borders to migrants and refugees fleeing violence."

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