Asylum claims from Mexico, Czech Republic at zero
CTV.ca News Staff
Updated Wed. Jul. 29 2009 4:15 PM ET
There have been virtually no asylum claims from Czech or Mexican nationals in the two weeks since the federal government required them to obtain travel visas before visiting Canada, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday.
On July 13, the Conservative government announced it was imposing the new visa requirement on the two countries because they are the two top sources of refugee claims, many of which turn out to be unwarranted.
In an interview with CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife before a Conservative caucus meeting in Ottawa, Kenney said Canada has received only one refugee claim from the two countries since a 48-hour grace period ended on July 15.
“I think this is working. It's allowing the legitimate visitors to come and it's screening out the bogus asylum claims,” Kenney said during the interview, which was broadcast on CTV News Channel.
According to Immigration Department figures, refugee claims from Mexico have tripled since 2005. More than 9,400 claims were made in 2008 and claims from Mexico were up 50 per cent in the first half of this year, Kenney said.
Since a visa requirement for Czech nationals was lifted in 2007, claims rose to about 3,000 in 2008, compared to five in 2005.
Many of the Czechs seeking asylum in Canada come from the Roma minority, who have long been persecuted throughout Europe.
The new rules require nationals from both countries to apply for a Temporary Resident Visa. The applicants must prove they do not intend to stay in Canada past their approved time, they have enough money for their stay and that they are in good health and not a security risk.
“At the end of the day, we had no choice if we wanted to protect the integrity of our asylum and immigration system,” Kenney said. “We don't want to have a two-tier immigration system: a really fast one for people who arrive at the airport as false asylum claimants who get a work permit and sometimes welfare benefits, and a longer, much slower system for legal immigrants who come here patiently. That's totally unfair.”
Kenney said the government would like to one day lift the visa requirement, but that will require an overhaul of the asylum claim system to make it faster and less susceptible to abuse.
Right now, asylum seekers can have their case heard before the Immigration Refugee Board, but can sometimes wait upwards of 18 months for a decision. If their claim is denied, they can then file an appeal with the federal court, which can cause further delays.
This all means a bogus refugee claimant can spend years in Canada, Kenney said.
Kenney said he is open to suggestions from his parliamentary colleagues about how to streamline the refugee claims process, including a dedicated refugee appeal board.
“If we could streamline the system, make it move a lot faster, a refugee appeal board would make a lot of decisions where you could have a clear appeal and would probably reduce further appeals to the federal court,” Kenney said. “But only if we can streamline and speed up the system.”