Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada is one of two non-European partners involved in PROTECT. The Ryerson team is led by Associate Professor Idil Atak, joining her are the Ph.D. fellows, Zainab Abu Alrob, and Jona Zyfi. Together, they will drive the Canadian-oriented research of PROTECT, involving fieldwork among migrants and refugees in Canadian cities and the organizing of PROTECT’s second conference.

The Ryerson team, led by Associate Professor Idil Atak are involved in several of PROTECT’s key Work Packages. The team co-leads Work Package 1 on developing theoretical, conceptual, and methodological approaches to international protection and Work Package 9 on dissemination, communication, and exploitation of results. As a part of the latter, the team will organize and host the second PROTECT conference in Toronto in 2021. PROTECT’s first conference, the Kick-off Conference, was held in Brussels on 9 March 2020.

As part of Work Package 4, the Ryerson team will conduct fieldwork among refugees and migrants in different cities in Canada, in which Ryerson students will be largely involved. The team will also be involved in comparative assessments of how the Global Compacts on Refugees and Migrants are implemented in Canada compared to Europe and South Africa. These analyses include the Compacts’ legal implications and their impact on refugee rights, and the Compacts’ impact on the governance of international protection and asylum determination.

Meet Idil Atak

Idil Atak is an associate professor in the Department of Criminology and in the Law School of Ryerson University, Toronto. Her research interests include irregular migration, refugee protection, and international human rights law. Atak is the Editor-In-Chief of the International Journal of Migration and Border Studies (IJMBS), a member of the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration’s (IASFM) Executive Committee, and the past president of the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (CARFMS). In the video presentation below, Professor Atak presents her role in PROTECT.

Weakened political commitment to refugees

Professor Atak has conducted research and published on the securitization of Canada’s refugee system and its implications for asylum seekers and irregular migrants for many years. She clearly identifies key challenges in implementing the Global Compacts on Refugees and Migrants in Canada despite the international praise the country has received for being a leading global actor within refugee resettlement.

In the video below, Atak addresses some of the current challenges of Canadian refugee protection.

“Refugee resettlement was an important electoral promise of Justin Trudeau, who in his campaign before the general election in 2015, promised that the Liberal party, if elected, would resettle a large number of refugees from Syria,” Atak explains.

Trudeau kept his electoral promise: In 2016, Canada accepted the largest number of refugees globally, resettling nearly 50 000 Syrian refugees. In 2018, this figure was down to 28 000. According to Atak, the decline in resettlements was a result of the changing political landscape in North-America, which sparked a reconsideration of the Canadian government’s open door policy:

“Since the election of Donald Trump there has been an increase in illegal border crossings by asylum seekers that cannot claim asylum at a land border, so they have to cross the US-Canadian border illegally. Once in Canada they can make their asylum claim.”

The 2004 Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement requires asylum seekers to claim refugee protection in the first safe country. Since January 2017, more than 54,000 asylum seekers have crossed the Canada-U.S. land border irregularly between ports of entry to claim asylum in Canada.

“This leaves no option to these individuals but to arrive irregularly in Canada since the agreement applies only to asylum claims made at official ports of entry along the land border”, Atak wrote in a recent PROTECT blog post.

“The agreement has been disputed in courts in Canada, but instead of rescinding the agreement, the government of Trudeau has established new ineligibility grounds as recently as in 2019. This agreement is very problematic as it prevents some groups of asylum seekers from accessing justice and protection.”

Atak stresses the need for stronger political commitments to maintain a humane asylum politics, criticizing the shift in Trudeau’s asylum politics:

“Political commitments to refugee protection need to be hard commitments – human rights-based obligations – they should not fluctuate depending on the political mood or interest.”

Although she draws on the Canadian experience when addressing challenges of implementing the Global Compacts, Atak stresses that limiting asylum seekers’ access to international protection is not solely a Canadian problem, but a global one:

“We see that asylum seekers in Canada, and in other parts of the world, including the EU, don’t have access to the protection they need, and that states are very creative in coming up with ways of preventing the arrival of asylum seekers.”

Meet Zainab Abu Alrob

Joining Professor Atak from Ryerson University is the early career researcher, Zainab Abu Alrob, who is a Ph.D. student in Policy Studies at the Department of Politics and Administration. Alrob holds an MA in Global Governance from the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Waterloo. Her research interests include border policy, refugee protection, and access to human rights. She is currently involved in a research project examining the impact of border security measures on the rights of irregular migrants. She also conducts research on refugee settlement, resilience, and integration in Canada.  

Meet Jona Zyfi

Jona (Yona) Zyfi is a Ph.D. student at the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto and a Junior Fellow at Massey College. Born in Albania, raised in Australia and now living in Canada, Jona’s research is motivated by her lived experiences with immigration and refugee systems and processes: “My research explores the role and impact of technology in migration and refugee regimes with a particular focus on automated decision making in refugee status determinations and the right to international protection. I am also interested in the governance of refugee protection in light of technological developments in this space. Thus, I am very excited to be given the opportunity to join the PROTECT project and the Ryerson team in further investigating these important topics through an interdisciplinary and comparative framework”.

The importance of private initiatives

Despite declining government efforts and weakened political commitments, Canada’s privately sponsored refugee resettlement initiatives continue their success.

In 2016, the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI) was launched, an initiative co-led by the UNHCR and the Canadian government aiming to establish private sponsorships to facilitate the integration of newly arrived refugees through the engagement of individuals, community organizations, faith-based groups, NGOs, private companies and resettled refugee families.

“Privately run resettlement initiatives have been successful in Canada. Currently, 60 percent of refugee resettlements are due to privately sponsored initiatives,” Atak explains.

The role of private stakeholders will remain important in facilitating the implementation of the Global Compacts on Refugees and Migrants in both Canada and globally, according to Atak.

This was also emphasized during by Sophie Magennis, Head of Policy and Legal Affairs, UNHCR Regional Office in Brussels, during PROTECT’s kick-off conference in March 2020:

“We need to bring a diversity of partners into the work on refugee protection and developing integration measures. Therefore, the Compacts envisages partnerships with the private sector, such as employers and organizations,” Magennis said.

Watch the rest of UNHCR’s intervention below:

PROTECT partners