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Canada must lead a global response to aid Trump’s refugees

Ratna Omidvar is an independent senator representing Ontario and a distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson University's Global Diversity Exchange.

People worldwide spent their weekends watching in alarm as the implementation of U.S. President Donald Trump's immigration orders struck down the hopes and plans of thousands.

Colleagues saw frantic e-mails streaming in from green card holders. Friends and families inside the United States cancelled their plans to leave. Those outside saw their plans for work, study or permanent immigration to the U.S. evaporate. The consequences of this confusion and uncertainty are far-reaching and far from over.

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Most cruelly, the world watched reports of refugees destined for the U.S. stranded at various stages of exit and arrival. Some are stuck in Egypt or Lebanon, others are detained inside American airports. These individuals and families, some of whom face ongoing threats to their lives, were accepted by the U.S. after extensive vetting by security authorities and are now denied entry at the doorstep. Without any evidence, they are presumed threats to national security.

Read more: Everything you need to know on Trump's actions affecting citizens from Muslim-majority countries

Related: How does Trump's immigration ban affect you? A Canadian guide

Opinion: Let's call Trump's Muslim ban what it really is: A hate crime

Canadians have a responsibility to act. Canada enjoys a reputation for being open and global, buoyed by words from leaders like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who tweeted Saturday, "Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith." This is a test of whether we deserve this reputation or not.

Canada must take the lead in establishing a global response to this action against the most vulnerable people, just as the Netherlands has done by creating a global abortion fund in response to President Trump's anti-abortion initiatives. The new UN Global Compact for Responsible Sharing of Refugees sets out a framework for doing precisely this, including new legal admission pathways. But a leader needs to emerge to ensure concerted action, solidarity and collaboration.

As a first step, Canada in concert with the community of resettlement countries should immediately work to open global doors for America's stranded refugees. One estimate puts this number at roughly 9,000 people who are or will be impacted by the 120-day ban on refugee entry. Refugees to the U.S. undergo health checks and one of the world's most stringent security screening processes. Not only are these refugees travel-ready, but given the selection criteria used by the U.S. and the UN Refugee Agency, they are among the most vulnerable, including men and women who risked their lives to serve as interpreters for the U.S. military overseas.

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As a second step, Canada should lead a push to raise the global resettlement figure for 2017 by 60,000 spots. Mr. Trump's executive order introduced a cap of 50,000 resettled refugees to the U.S. this year, down from 110,000 previously set by Barack Obama. The difference of 60,000 can be balanced by Canada and our allies. In this effort we can especially lean on new-found partners in private sponsorship – including unusual entrants like Argentina and Chile which are piloting their own versions of Canada's PSR program.

While a global response would send a deeper message of solidarity with refugees and the residents of Muslim-majority countries targeted by the executive order, Canada can in fact contribute much of the heavy-lifting.

There is no diminished compassion for resettling refugees among Canadians, who have already welcomed nearly 40,000 resettled refugees since November 2015. Instead, churches, mosques and other community groups report overwhelming demand for private sponsorship and have had to turn away countless would-be sponsors.

Increasing Canada's refugee levels for 2017 is not just a humanitarian move. Evidence from countries like Denmark, Turkey and the U.S. shows a refugee influx has net benefits for the economy. There is no evidence refugees raise unemployment. Instead, there is evidence they create jobs and by taking lower-skilled jobs, actually raise the wages of everyone else. The evidence is lived experience for Canadians in over 300 communities of arrival for privately sponsored refugees. From Antigonish to Surrey the contributions of our refugee friends and neighbours are felt daily.

But above all, our responsibility to act lies in our values, which are mere paper promises if we do not act upon them at moments like this. Countries have dark moments in their history when we have turned our backs on those seeking protection. We have lived to regret those moments. Let this moment then not pass without Canada standing up and taking its natural place as a leader by being open, compassionate and inclusive.

The United States closed a door. Canada can open a window.

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