UN Upbraids Canada For Sending Claimants Back To U.S.

UN upbraids Canada for sending claimants back to U.S.

The Canadian Press
October 12, 2007

OTTAWA — Border officials are summarily sending refugee claimants back to the United States in breach of Canada's duty to let them seek asylum, says the United Nations — and refugee advocates say the practice must stop.

The latest incident involves four refugees from Haiti and one from El Salvador who were sent back Monday to the United States from the Lacolle, Que., border point near Montreal.

“It is completely unacceptable for the Canadian government, based on its convenience, to turn away refugee claimants who are seeking our protection,” said Amy Casipullai of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

Her group joined the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Amnesty International yesterday to condemn so-called “direct backs.” They say the practice is used by border officials who blame a lack of staff, interpreters and resources.

Claimants are sent back to the United States and told to return another time — something they may never have a chance to do.

Two of the five people turned away on Monday were later detained by American authorities, the UN high commissioner said.

The latest incident “strengthens the impression that the Canadian government is becoming increasingly hostile to refugees and unwilling to uphold its international commitments,” the refugee council said.

The governing Conservatives have also been criticized for failing to fill many vacancies on the Immigration and Refugee Board, which assesses claims.

Comment from the Canadian Borders Services Agency was not immediately available.

Use of “direct backs” forces claimants to apply under the U.S. system — where detention and deportation are more likely — even when they're entitled to apply in Canada, said Nanda Na Champassak of the UN high commission. For example, Canada will not deport persons back to Haiti whereas the United States will.

Broader use of detention in the United States makes it difficult for advocates to track the fate of claimants, she added.

Advocates say there were 33 claimants at Lacolle on Monday — a number that a rich country like Canada should be able to handle.

“The basic human right to seek asylum must be respected no matter how many refugees are involved,” said Gloria Nafziger, refugee co-ordinator for Amnesty International.

“How can the Canadian government urge others to respect their obligations if Canada claims to be 'overwhelmed' by three dozen claimants?”