Two Sides of the Border: Lazarus Lies At Our Gate

January 1, 1998

by Betty Puricelli

Betty Puricelli has been Co-Director of the Mennonite New Life Centre of Toronto since its founding in 1984 by the General Conference Mennonite Church. The Centre provides counselling, emotional support, language instruction and settlement services to refugees and newcomers to Toronto, Ontario.

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, . . . who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table (Luke 16:19-21, NRSV).

The story of the rich man and Lazarus is being relived at the gates of the rich nations of our world. The plight of 40 million refugees and displaced people today is the plight of Lazarus. They beg for mercy at the gates of the wealthy nations and are ignored, or feared. Their longings are answered with iron bars that cover doors and windows.

Canadian immigration policy has been changing in the past few years. Before the change, any person deemed a refugee according to the criteria of the Geneva Convention was readily accepted as a landed immigrant. Since the change, refugees’ ability to contribute to the Canadian economy is the overriding consideration. Now the needs of the Canadian economy take priority over the needs of refugees.

The change has affected private sponsorship of refugees through Mennonite Central Committee. MCC was the first to sign a master agreement with the Canadian government. This private sponsorship agreement enabled MCC to bring more refugees into Canada. But in some recent cases, MCC sponsors have been rejected and refugees have been refused immigrant visas, despite letters from Canadian consulates recommending them. The reason the government gave for refusal: the applicant would not be able to find work and become self-sufficient.

This takes its toll on family members who have settled legally in Canada. They worry about relatives who remain in areas of conflict. Their own settlement process is put on hold, as their concern for those left behind becomes their focus.

The policy changes have also meant increased funding for the enforcement arm of the Canadian immigration service. The result has been more violence and more inhumane treatment, even toward those who have met the requirements for continuing to stay in Canada.

The new realities are alarming to those of us who work with refugees here. We wonder what the future holds for the increasing numbers of refugees in our world. How will we respond to the Lazaruses at our gates?

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