Canadian minister talks about the benefits of immigration in visit to Australia

Ahmed Hussen

The Immigration Minister of Canada is something of a global anomaly at this time.

Ahmed Hussen is not only a former refugee, but also an advocate for the benefits of immigration in what he calls a "closed-door world."

Hussen spoke at the University of New South Wales on Friday as part of his visit to Australia, where he defended a more progressive stance on immigration and refugee policy.

Ahmed Hussen in Canada.

AAP

And for him, the issue is not just a portfolio, but a lived experience.

At age 16, Hussen escaped the civil war in Somalia and fled to Canada. He continued studying and practicing law, before becoming the country's Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship last year.

But he downplayed his own story as a screenwriter for the Sydney audience.

"In addition to our indigenous population, the rest of us in Canada are descendants of immigrants or immigrants ourselves … The history of modern Canada is a history of immigration," he said.

Hussen said that current "global anxieties" around immigrants and refugees ignore the many economic arguments for increased immigration.

"Talent and investment have never been more mobile, and they will go where they are most welcome," he said.

And it framed the rise of immigration as an important solution to the challenges posed by Canada's aging population.

For these reasons, Mr. Hussen's boss, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has increased Canadian immigration targets from 260,000 per year to 310,000 per year. The goal will increase to 340,000 by 2020.

"The argument in favor of diversity is clear, it is a strength, not a threat," said Hussen.

"Politicians may have concerns about immigration to get into the office or they may take the high road and talk about the benefits of immigration."

He said Canada and other countries should be "ambitious" on immigration.

But it seems that support in the country spilled, and a poll last week suggested that half of Canadians would prefer to lower the government's immigration target of 310,000 new permanent residents by 2018.

With regard to the issue of refugees, Mr. Hussen spoke about the Private Sponsorship Program for refugees in his country.

The initiative allows financial costs and settlement support to refugees to be provided by private groups or organizations.

"We have seen, time and time again, the generosity of Canadians here," adding that the program has established 288,000 refugees since it began in 1978.

"It is transformative not only for the refugees, but also for the sponsors … The sponsors become the greatest defenders of the refugees, since the refugees are no longer a summary, but part of the family."

Regarding the integration of newcomers to a country, either in Canada or elsewhere, Mr. Hussen emphasized that it was "a two-way street".

"You can not demand that people integrate if you are not willing to provide a welcoming environment."

But Hussen did not delve into the recent upswing in unofficial border crossings from the United States to Canada, which has been a source of controversy for the Trudeau government.

The material from the Sydney event said that Canada's immigration focus was "based on the principle of mutual obligations for new immigrants and Canadian society."

"Its ultimate goal is for immigrants to participate fully in the economic, social, cultural and political life of Canada," he said.

And Mr. Hussen seems to be living proof of his success.