Spike in Canada refugee claims shows 'systemic abuse,' Kenney charges
'An abuse of Canada's generosity'
Canwest News Service
Published: Tuesday, March 24, 2009
UNITED NATIONS — Immigration Minister Jason Kenney spoke Tuesday of “wide-scale and almost systematic abuse” of Canada's refugee system after a United Nations report showed a 30% increase in the number of people seeking refugee or asylum status in Canada.
Much of the increase comes from a major rise in the numbers of Mexicans, Haitians and Colombians claiming they'll face persecution if Canada sends them back to their respective countries, the UN says.
But the world body also says the United States saw a three per cent drop in the number of people asking for asylum in that country last year.
Overall, the percentage increase for Canada is almost three times the average for 51 countries studied in Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialized Countries 2008 by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
“This is clearly an abuse of Canada's generosity,” Mr. Kenney said during an interview. “It is a violation of the integrity of our immigration system.”
One difference between the U.S. and Canada is that the States operates a detention system in which applicants can be effectively jailed pending review of their cases, while applicants in Canada are often eligible to apply for a temporary work permit.
“It discourages people from making a claim if they have to stay in jail,” said David Matas, a refugee lawyer in Winnipeg.
Canada received 36,900 new applications last year, according to the UN report, whereas the U.S., whose population is 10 times larger, received an estimated 49,000.
“Canada has witnessed a steady increase in new asylum seekers in the past years, and in 2008 was the second largest recipient of applications,” says the report's commentary. “On average, every 10th application in the industrialized world was made in Canada.”
Applicants in Canada go before the Immigration and Refugee Board, which puts the application figure for 2008 at 34,800 – slightly lower than the UN's finding.
The board's case-approval rate for the past several years has varied between 42% and 46%, but rejected applicants have a slew appeals and other options available to them.
“People . . . whose initial claims are rejected are able to stay in Canada, sometimes for several years, making serial appeals,” Mr. Kenney said. “In some cases, it would seem their objective is to stay long enough that they can make a compelling case that it would be uncompassionate for them to be deported.”
Mr. Kenney noted the Immigration and Refugee Board rejects up to 90% of claims made by Mexicans.
“That would suggest wide scale and almost systematic abuse,” Kenney said.
Canada sometimes delays deportation of rejected Haitian applicants, meanwhile, because Ottawa lists the Caribbean country, the Western hemisphere's poorest, among those as potentially unstable or susceptible to other forms of disaster.
“That may be acting as an incentive for false claimants,” Mr. Kenney added.
He spoke of a “broad political consensus” that Canada's inland refugee system was “broken.”
“I have asked my parliamentary colleagues at the immigration committee and in the opposition parties to begin a dialogue on ways we can reform the inland-refugee system to make sure there is a fair process that complies with the principles of natural justice, but ensures that bogus claimants are shown the door, and quickly,” he said.
Mexicans are exempted from a U.S.-Canada agreement that gives both countries the right to refuse an application already rejected by the other's refugee review system – possibly leading to “double-dipping.”
But Matas suggests Canada may be also more “receptive” to reasons Mexicans may have for seeking to leave.
“The problem in Mexico is less government [persecution] than the government's inability to protect people from gang warfare and drug cartels,” he said. “People may also feel safer in Canada, since anyone being pursued by gangsters would be more susceptible if they were just across the border.”
In addition to the 7,554 refugee and asylum claimants Immigration and Refugee Board approved last year, government and private sponsors of refugees overseas who've already fled from their countries of origin brought in more than 11,000, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada statistics.
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