Rejected refugee claimants to be offered cash, airfare
Ottawa giving refused asylum-seekers incentives to leave the country
By MARIAN SCOTT
April 2, 2010
Canada will offer incentives to persuade rejected refugee claimants to leave the country, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said yesterday.
The measure is part of a comprehensive overhaul designed to speed up the refugee-determination process, mired in a 60,000-person backlog.
“We're going to try to use carrots instead of sticks,” Kenney said in a meeting with The Gazette's editorial board, referring to a plan to offer plane tickets and resettlement allowances of up to $2,000 to asylum-seekers whose claims are rejected.
Kenney has been on the road this week to sell the $540-million refugee-reform package he tabled Tuesday in the House of Commons. Bill C-11 aims to cut wait times for refugee claimants' first hearing from 19 months to two months.
Failed refugee claimants would be shown the door within two years of arrival, on average, instead of the current 41/2 years.
Kenney said the reform will end a vicious circle that allows bogus claimants to gain a foothold in Canada because of long delays.
“The longer the queue, the more false claimants come,” he said.
The package also includes incentives to solve what Kenney called the “vexatious problem” of rejected claimants who evade deportation and disappear into the uncounted numbers of illegal migrants.
“We have no reliable estimates on illegal immigrants but it's certainly at least tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands,” the immigration minister said.
In return for co-operating with authorities, would-be refugees whose claims are refused could receive plane fare and up to $2,000 to get resettled.
Similar programs in Britain and Australia have dramatically improved compliance with deportation orders, said Kenney, who acknowledged he was initially skeptical about subsidizing rejected refugee claimants.
Of the 27,000 asylum claims in Canada each year, six of 10 are rejected or withdrawn, he said.
Under the bill, civil servants, rather than political appointees – as is now the case – would judge refugee claims.
The most controversial aspect of the reform is that it divides prospective refugees into two classes: those from countries Canada deems to be safe and those more likely to produce bona fide refugees.
Refugee advocates have criticized the idea of creating a list of “safe” countries, saying that every refugee claim should be considered on its own merits regardless of country of origin.
The Canadian Council for Refugees has pointed out, for example, that in countries that are generally peaceful, some individuals might experience persecution because of their gender or sexual orientation.
However, Kenney said the creation of a list of safe lands of origin is designed to prevent spikes in unfounded claims from certain countries. For example, of 2,500 claimants from Hungary last year, 97 per cent withdrew or abandoned their claims, Kenney said.
“We need a tool to deal with these situations,” the immigration minister said, adding that until now Canada has imposed visa requirements to stem such surges in refugee applications.
Refugee advocates have suggested that the federal government contributed to the current backlog by failing to fill vacancies on the Immigration and Refugee Board, but Kenney said that 98 per cent of those positions on the board have now been filled.