Cana­di­ans lead push to use frozen funds to aid mi­grants

Bil­lions from despots and dic­ta­tors could help their vic­tims, group says


OT­TAWA— A Cana­dian-led in­ter­na­tional move­ment seized with staunch­ing the flow of refugees wants to use an un­tapped source of cash to ad­dress the global cri­sis: the bil­lions lan­guish­ing in the frozen bank ac­counts of dic­ta­tors and despots.

The pro­posal will be one of the main rec­om­men­da­tions of the World Refugee Coun­cil, a self­ap­pointed body of two dozen global po­lit­i­cal fig­ures, aca­demics and civil-so­ci­ety rep­re­sen­ta­tives led by former Cana­dian for­eign min­is­ter Lloyd Ax­wor­thy.

“We’ve put for­ward a propo­si­tion that where there are frozen as­sets, they should be un­frozen through a proper le­gal process and re­al­lo­cated to help the vic­tims of the crime and cor­rup­tion and in­sta­bil­ity that the bad guys cre­ate,” Ax­wor­thy said. “It’s a moral­ity play. The bad guys have to pay to help their vic­tims.”

The World Bank es­ti­mates the pool of cash to be worth $10 bil­lion to $20 bil­lion per year, Ax­wor­thy said.

The coun­cil was es­tab­lished last year by a Cana­dian think tank, the Cen­tre for In­ter­na­tional Gov­er­nance In­no­va­tion, to find new ways to deal with the 21st cen­tury’s record-set­ting mi­gra­tion cri­sis — the 68.5 mil­lion dis­placed peo­ple driven from their homes by war, famine and dis­as­ter.

The United Na­tions will turn its at­ten­tion to solv­ing the prob­lem at a spe­cial ses­sion later this fall, and the coun­cil plans to of­fer its in­put, us­ing the weight of the last Cana­dian for­eign min­is­ter to chair a Se­cu­rity Coun­cil meet­ing.

The UN has ac­knowl­edged in stark terms that as the num­ber of home­less and state­less peo­ple con­tin­ues to grow around the globe, their suf­fer­ing is in­creased by the shrink­ing pool of money avail­able to help them.

Ax­wor­thy says there are fun­da­men­tal struc­tural flaws in how the world’s in­sti­tu­tions are set up to cope with the un­prece­dented forced mi­gra­tion of peo­ple, and a big one is how the bills are paid. The sys­tem is based on char­ity — the benev­o­lent do­na­tions of peo­ple, coun­tries and busi­nesses — and is not sus­tain­able, Ax­wor­thy said.

An Oc­to­ber re­port by the United Na­tions refugee agency said it ex­pected to raise 55 per cent of the $8 bil­lion it needs to sup­port refugees and in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple this year.

Ax­wor­thy said the courts in sev­eral coun­tries can be used to seize funds that have been frozen there. Canada, the United States and Bri­tain have all passed leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing them to im­pose sanc­tions on in­di­vid­ual hu­man rights abusers. Th­ese “Mag­nit­sky laws” are named af­ter a Rus­sian tax ac­coun­tant who died in pri­son af- ter ex­pos­ing a mas­sive fraud by state of­fi­cials there.

The world could start spend­ing the “tens of bil­lions of dol­lars mould­ing away in a va­ri­ety of banks and other places, pur­loined money from the war­lords, from the bad guys, the dic­ta­tors, the au­thor­i­tar­i­ans,” Ax­wor­thy said.

Ir­win Cotler, a former Lib­eral jus­tice min­is­ter and hu­man rights lawyer who has cham­pi­oned Mag­nit­sky-style leg­is­la­tion, said in a sep­a­rate in­ter­view that th­ese laws can go beyond freez­ing funds, be­cause once the as­sets are seized, there’s no point to re­turn­ing them to their cor­rupt own­ers.

“What you want to do is have the pro­ceeds put for the pub­lic good,” said Cotler, the founder of the Mon­treal-based Raoul Wal­len­berg Cen­tre for Hu­man Rights.

Canada’s first round of sanc­tions un­der its Mag­nit­sky Act tar­geted peo­ple in Rus­sia, South Su­dan and Venezuela, in­clud­ing Ni­co­las Maduro, the South Amer­i­can coun­try’s pres­i­dent.

The refugee coun­cil’s most re­cent re­port, re­leased last month, fo­cused on the dis­place­ment of mil­lions of peo­ple from Venezuela. That re­port urged the United States to take a lead­ing role in seiz­ing bil­lions of “ill-got­ten” as­sets in the coun­try, in­clud­ing the $2 bil­lion that the U.S. Trea­sury Depart­ment es­ti­mates has been stolen from Venezuela’s sta­te­owned oil com­pany.

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