Letter: Liberal democracies need to act. Ethiopia needs help.

Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland has rightly criticized Ethiopia’s detention of two Canadians. Yet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to play the diplomatic pass-the-parcel card to block such criticism. Instead, Canada should speak boldly about the increasing demand for protection in Ethiopia and demand that the State Department take charge.

Freeland took immediate action after learning about the Canadian-Canadian girls detained in September: She visited the detention site as well as Ethiopia’s most populous city, Addis Ababa, which is home to many migrants. She met with Eritrean citizens – even supporters of Mengistu Haile Mariam, the former dictator – in exile in Toronto and was engaged in “relentless pressure on Ethiopia,” as she put it.

In Ethiopia, “pressure” is running rampant.

Because of the refugee crisis, Ethiopia has reported nearly 800,000 people arriving within its borders since 2015, a crisis that has spilled into Canada. And the challenges faced by these new arrivals are mounting. “The vast majority of these refugees must in part live in precarious conditions: overcrowded tents, homes with broken toilets and constant flooding.” Not surprisingly, they are desperate to reunite with family or to seek asylum. “Canada and Europe cannot turn a blind eye to this refugee crisis,” Freeland said last week.

With more than 11,000 Ethiopian refugees in an official facility in Toronto since 2015, those who arrived need more support. The official closure of the facility has left about 4,000 Ethiopians in Toronto without adequate housing or resources. So Canada has opened up a resource center to help these residents.

Amid this growing concern, a media storm erupted last week when Freeland slammed Canada’s treatment of Ethiopian asylum seekers. “There are [2,000] Ethiopians living on our streets,” she said, adding that she was “profoundly disappointed and troubled” by Canada’s “extremely dangerous precedent” in failing to take responsibility for refugees.

Freeland did not elaborate. She is not the only one concerned. Frank Iacobucci, Canada’s United Nations refugee agency special rapporteur, issued a statement the same day, suggesting that the existing arrangements for “migration management” may fall short, and that “no meaningful reform can be achieved” without “a fundamental rethink of the system.”

As difficult as it can be to argue for a “root cause” for the refugee crisis, is it not clear that until there is a comprehensive overhaul of the security and migration challenges in Ethiopia, there will be more refugees? Did it not occur to Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs that there are other reasons for the crisis – one of which is Ethiopia’s failure to address legitimate security threats to its own people? One of those reasons, by the way, is Eritrea’s (annexed) ruling party’s systematic oppression of civilians.

Solving the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia is not just a humanitarian crisis. Ethiopia needs help in protecting itself from terrorism. Until it finds a genuine means of addressing national and regional security threats, Canada can do no more than make sure the asylum seekers in Toronto are treated fairly and humanely. Only then can Canada ask for anything more.

Endorsed by The Conservative Alliance, was sent to the editor of The Post on Jan. 20, 2019, at 12:14 a.m.

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