Canada’s Refugee Rule Change: Responsible or Reckless?

Canada's Refugee Rule Change
Canada's Refugee Rule Change

Refugees are defined as someone who has well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group or political opinion in their homeland.  They flee in search of a safer environment where they are able to escape the violence back home.  As Canadians, we take pride in knowing that our nation has enjoyed a relatively strong reputation as a welcoming environment for refugees.  We openly welcome them to our nation and shelter them from harm.  For Toronto, about 8000 refugees (close to 10% of the national total) arrive in our city annually in search of a safe haven.  Our city, in some respect, is the first port-of-entry for most refugees in Canada.  Over the years, Canada has been known to have one of the most compassionate refugee system in the world, and in 2004, some reports suggested that we had the highest per capita immigration rate in the world.

July 23 2009 marked the change of Canada’s existing refugee system.  The Federal Government decided to implement a new rule that some say will make it harder for many to claim refugee status here, and will eventually close the doors on refugees.  They argue that by closing the Canadian border by way of this new change, it will further exasperate the immigration problem, not improve it.  Others though, applaud the decision as a welcoming first step in cleaning up the so-called flawed system.  They argue that the former policy allowed for some refugees to abuse our system and compassion.

What do you think about this new rule change in the refugee policy?  Will it curb the alleged abuse to this system, or will it further endanger the lives of legitimate refugee claimants in the end?


Temporary Suspension of Removal (TSR):

“A TSR prevents removals to a country or place when conditions such as war or environmental disaster threaten the lives or security of the entire population.

When a TSR is in place, people whose refugee claim is rejected or who are found inadmissible for some other reason and who normally would be subject to removal are allowed to stay in Canada until the TSR is lifted.”

Safe Third Country Agreement:

“The Safe Third Country Agreement is an agreement between the governments of Canada and the United States to better manage the flow of refugee claimants at the shared land border.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, the US and Canada each declared the other country safe for refugees and established the general principle that refugee claimants should make their claim in the first of these countries that they reach, unless they qualify for an exception to the Agreement.  Thus refugees who are in the US are expected to pursue their claim in the US, rather than seeking protection in Canada and vice versa.”

Under the existing Safe Third Country Agreement, refugee claimants arriving in North America must make a claim in the first safe country they reach, either Canada or the United States.

One of Canada’s exceptions to the Safe Third Country Agreement in the past, allowed individuals from countries under a temporary suspension of removals (TSR) coming through the Canada-U.S. land border to make a refugee claim in Canada, even though they already had the opportunity to make one in the United States.  Effective July 23, 2009, this exception has been removed.

Refugee claimants from Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe, countries that have temporary suspension of removal (TSR) status due to their volatile political conditions, will no longer be able to come to Canada from the United States and then seek asylum, unless they have family already here.  The claimants arriving at a Canada-U.S. land border will be ineligible to make a refugee claim in Canada and will be turned back to the United States.

The new rule takes effect just as the government is removing Burundi, Liberia and Rwanda from the TSR list. There are about 4,000 people in Canada protected under the TSR list, half of them from the delisted countries.  In a statement, Canada Border Services Agency said the three countries were removed due to improved conditions there.

Canada was awarded the Nansen medal in 1986 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for its contribution to the protection of refugees. This award acknowledged the support by individual Canadians of the private refugee sponsorship program, which enjoyed huge popularity in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Over 700,000 individuals have been offered refugee protection in Canada since World War II.

“The objective of the Safe Third Country Agreement is to allow both Canada and the U.S. to handle refugee claims in an orderly manner, reduce the possibility of multiple claims and share the responsibility for providing protection to those in need.  This exception was undermining those objectives and therefore the integrity of our asylum system.  It is important that we don’t create a two-tier immigration system: one tier for immigrants who wait patiently in line to come to Canada, frequently for years; and another tier for those who jump the immigration queue and make refugee claims in Canada after they’ve already had the opportunity to do so in a safe, democratic country.”  Federal Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney

“What we have seen is a dramatic change in Canadian policy with respect to refugees.  There was once a certain openness in Canada and in the last few weeks, the government began turning its back on the best traditions we have to offer.”  “This is a radical move. The government is slamming its doors on refugee claimants.”  Canadian Council of Refugees, Janet Dench & Rick Goldman

PAKISTAN-VIOLENCE/ iraqi refugees in Canada 14f9y

16052318-M Meeting with Sudanese refugee women in Darfur, Sudan. October 2004.-1 STC

support new change

Canada’s immigration and refugee system is broken. The Immigration and Refugee Act is innately flawed and has created a dangerously dysfunctional immigration system in Canada.  Canada has one of the most popular and easily-abused refugee operations in the world, with a growing backlog of false claims that only delays those who deserve honest consideration.  The law is full of loopholes and lenient rules that encourage fraud, pose security threats to Canada and facilitate illegal immigration.  Thousands of permanent residents and Canadians have been victims of immigration fraud as a result.

For much too long, many refugees have taken advantage of our good will by abusing our naive generosity.  Their first stop is usually one of our welfare offices to pick up free money and then a free and easy health card.  By facilitating these claims, it costs millions of dollars both in the process and associated public health, social services and education costs that adds to the already staggering backlog of 60, 000 claims.  Currently, any person in Canada may make a refugee claim. People entering Canada may make a refugee claim at any port of entry. Visitors, international students, foreign workers, foreign diplomats, and visiting athletes or artists may make a claim.  All claims must be considered regardless of the citizenship of the claimant.  This has resulted in our nation to inherit one of the highest acceptance rates in the world.  According to United Nations statistics, in 2003 acceptance rates were: Canada 49.6 per cent, U.S. 32 per cent, Italy 16.3 per cent, France 13.3 per cent, Denmark 12 per cent, Belgium 10.3 per cent, Spain 10 per cent and Finland 0.7 per cent.  Within the process, the Immigration and Refugee Board schedules hearings to determine refugee claims within 18 months of making a claim or appeal.  And the abusers know that, as these claimants can legally remain in Canada as they wait for their hearings.  Hundreds if not thousands of them could pose security threats to Canada.

A note worthy point to state is that, The United States is a safe country.  If there is a refugee in the US fleeing some other country, they are safe in the US as it is a democratic country just like ours. That’s the whole point of having a refugee status, is it not?  “Shopping” for a country to emigrate means you are not a refugee, but an economic migrant.  If they really are in danger, then they should be happy taking up residence in the first foreign country they land in.  It is appalling that some of these so-called refugees mask themselves as one, when they are really looking for the fastest way to get rich, in whichever country.  There are thousands of refugees who rightfully deserve to be here, as they are actually fleeing because of violence back home.  Yet, these fraudsters take advantage of our compassionate nature and abuse the system to benefit their pockets and dirty ambitions.  It not only hurts our system, but it severely cripples the individuals that are legitimately refugees in need of refuge.

We have the most generous refugee system in the world that has unfortunately become a matching immigration venue for those who are not qualified to immigrate for economic migrants, criminals, and even terrorists.  This is the right step forward as the need for a total overhaul of the refugee determination system is urgent to serve the best interests of genuine refugees and Canadians in general.

against new change

Written by: Paula Kline & Rick Goldman for The Montreal Gazette

In a series of recent announcements, the federal government has moved to severely restrict access to Canada’s asylum system.  Canadians, who can be rightfully proud of our strong humanitarian tradition regarding refugees (we were awarded the UN’s Nansen Medal in 1986 for the “sustained contribution of the people of Canada to the cause of refugees”), might legitimately ask: were we really being overly generous toward refugees?

The current government certainly thinks so.

This month, the government began requiring visitors from the Czech Republic and Mexico to obtain visas in an effort to reduce refugee claims. A week ago, it removed eight countries from the list of places that Canada judges as too dangerous to deport people back to. This is in turn essentially closes the U.S.-Canada border to people from some of the most dangerous and unstable countries in the world.  Think: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti and Zimbabwe among others.

However, a high percentage of claimants from the countries in question have been accepted as legitimate refugees after claiming asylum in Canada. After all, they fled some of the most repressive situations in the world. They were coming to Canada because the U.S. system is much less fair to refugees, for example, detaining claimants for lengthy periods with limited access to legal representation. For the government to depict these persons as “immigration queue-jumpers,” Canada is doing them a grave disservice and perpetuating a negative stereotype of refugee claimants.

Although human beings should never be reduced to mere statistics, numbers do provide another way of looking at whether we have been overly-generous to refugees. Out of about 10 million refugees roaming the globe in 2008, Canada received about 37,000 claimants last year, a fraction of one per cent. In this era of high security and biometric travel documents, few refugees ever make it far from the troubled countries they are fleeing, however genuine their claims might be.

The hard truth is that refugee determinations are among the most complex and high-stakes decisions in our legal system. Haste makes waste and, in the case of refugees, costs lives. Whatever its shortcomings, the Canadian refugee system is fundamentally sound and among the best in the world. We should be building on its strengths, not gutting it. Studies show that refugees and immigrants contribute positively to the Canadian economy. Many refugees start small businesses that employ both themselves and “native” Canadians.

Had the present government not starved it of vital resources, notably by failing to appoint a sufficient number of members to the Immigration and Refugee Board in recent years, the system would not be “flawed” today, as the federal government has put it.

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