Alex Neve, Secretary-General of Amnesty International Canada, was in Lacombe on Sunday discussing the global refugee crisis.
During his speech, Neve said the key to solving the worldwide crisis is five things: prevention, champions, rights, empowerment and solidarity.
Currently, there are over 25 million refugees worldwide and one person is forced to flee their home every two seconds due to conflict or violence.
Neve said the numbers are the highest since the Second World War and that the numbers of displaced people in South Sudan and Syria are staggering, but the numbers do not tell the whole story of the crisis.
“It is only .3 of one per cent of the world’s population,” he said.
”We can cope with that. We have enough prosperity, wealth and imagination among all nations that we can cope with that.
“The crisis lies in the fact that we have decided to respond not with generosity and compassion but with punishment and restriction. We spend billions of dollars on measures that are designed to keep refugees out of countries around the world and that has exacerbated the crisis.”
Much of the anti-refugee policy throughout the global north has stemmed from anti-refugee populist politics which uses negative and racist rhetoric to demonize refugees, according to Neve.
“This is something that in the past has largely been the domain of neo-Nazi groups, extremist fringe political parties or tabloid newspapers,” he said. “They have now come out of the fringes and have gone mainstream.”
Neve said U.S. President Donald Trump’s election campaign was an example of this toxic rhetoric.
“Trump’s election campaign was an attack on refugees and migrants, whether it be Muslim refugees or Central American, Latin American refugees coming to the United States,” Neve said.
“He did so in terms that often were not even disguised in their contempt and hatred for those very populations.”
Neve said it is important to turn away from that type of politics and that everyone needs to open their eyes and hearts to protecting refugees.
He, thankfully, has noticed some fruits of this effort after Canadians welcomed Syrian refugees to their communities all over the county.
“At the end of the day when we do have those opportunities for personal connections with people that is what wins out,” he said. “All the other suspicion, fears, worries and intolerance diminishes. “
One of the key goals for Neve is to promote agencies for refugees and give them control over the policy that will impact their lives.
“For years and decades, one of the most unfortunate hallmarks of refugee policy has been the degree to which refugees themselves have not been involved with shaping those policies and making decisions about their lives, their rights, their families and their futures,” he said.
“That is not only cruel, it also leads to bad policy because who knows better about what will work than those whose lives are on the line. We need to change that around.”
While the Canadian government has said a lot regarding helping the refugee crisis, the $15 billion Saudi Arabia arms deal for light-armoured vehicles lies in stark contrast to what has been said.
Canada has expressed concern regarding the crisis in Yemen, Neve said, but has yet to back out of the deal which provides weapons to the Saudi government which has exacerbated the crisis and has committed endless war crimes.
“We can’t have it both ways. Are we or are we not concerned about displacement in Yemen? If we are, we should not be equipping the armed forces of the country that is the replacement of much of that suffering. We need coherence,” he said.
Neve said it is important for Central Albertans to raise their voices to all levels of government and let politicians know that they are in support of policy that is welcoming and compassionate to refugees
“Groups like Amnesty International always have petitions online and in person at public events where you have an opportunity to add your voice to the thousands of others around the world who are speaking out. It is not a time to be silent,” Neve said.