Asylum bids blocked at U.S. border
Study shows 55% drop in claimants
New pact flawed, refugee groups say
Nov. 17, 2006. 01:00 AM
The Toronto Star
The number of asylum seekers who managed to cross the U.S.-Canadian border and file a refugee claim here dropped by a whopping 55 per cent last year, a government review of the two-year-old Safe Third Country Agreement has found.
This first report, released nearly a year later than mandated, said the number of land border claims fell from 8,896 in 2004 to 4,033 in 2005, a year after the bilateral agreement was implemented. The 2004 agreement requires that refugee claims in the U.S. and Canada be processed in the country where the asylum seekers first land.
The joint review, conducted by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was monitored by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
But advocacy groups argue that it didn't probe deeply enough into the consequences for refugees such as what happened to them later or whether the U.S. really qualifies as a safe country for those Canada is turning away at the border.
“Yes, the report reviewed what the agreement's meant to do, but it didn't look at whether it's something right or wrong to do,” said Gloria Nafziger, refugee co-ordinator for Amnesty International Canada. “We fundamentally object to the existence of the agreement because it's based on the premise that Canada and the U.S. share the same protection for asylum seekers.”
Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said U.S. officials' treatment of asylum seekers is questionable, as most are detained while being processed.
Refugee advocates also say the report doesn't account for those who put their lives at risk in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers so they can get into Canada to file an “inland” claim.
Questions were raised in a parliamentary committee before the agreement was implemented about possible harm to refugees, particularly women fleeing gender-based violence which Canada recognizes as a valid basis for asylum and a potential increase in human smuggling. Neither was examined in the review, says the Canadian Council for Refugees.
Under the new restrictions, the proportion of Canada's refugee claimants who arrived here via the U.S. border dropped significantly, from 35 per cent in 2004 to 20 per cent in 2005.
Of the 4,033 refugee claims accepted at land crossings last year, 3,254 qualified under one of the exceptions outlined in the agreement, such as having relatives in Canada or coming from a politically volatile country.