Canada’s Refugee System Remains in Disarray
By James Bissett
From “Abusing Canada’s Generosity and Ignoring Genuine Refugees”
Published by Frontier Centre for Public Policy
Unlike other countries, Canada allows almost unlimited access (to its refugee system). Canada is one of the few countries that permits anyone from any country to claim asylum and apply for refugee status.
(Editor’s Note 1 : Between 1985 and 2010, over 800,000 people made claims to obtain refugee status in Canada. Around 60% of the 800,000 have proved to be fraudulent. The objective of most of the 800,000 people has been to (1) gain refugee status, (2) get immigrant status and (3) bring others here. This is why, for many years, critics have stated that Canada’s refugee system has become an alternate immigration system.)
(Editor’s Note 2 :In addition, every year, Canada’s Immigration Department and private organizations such as churches go to refugee camps abroad and re-settle about 10,000 people in Canada.)
European Union countries long ago introduced pre-screening processes to sort out frivolous and clearly false claims from genuine ones, and they have accelerated procedures for dealing with claimants originating from countries considered safe for refugees. Many countries have reduced welfare benefits and other services to asylum seekers ; … others do not permit asylum seekers to work. These methods have been implemented so that fraudulent claimants who are illegal immigrants do not overwhelm their asylum systems.
(Editor’s Note 3 : Recently, former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney helped to correct the problem of people coming from Safe countries and abusing our system. He established a list of Safe countries from which claims will not be accepted.)
Under Canada’s system, there is no effective pre-screening procedure to separate the obviously unfounded claims from those that are genuine. As a result, all who submit a claim receive a quasi-judicial hearing before the IRB to determine if they are to receive refugee status. In most cases, the claimant also receives free legal assistance when appearing before the IRB (Immigration and Refugee Board).
The problem is that although the IRB finds that almost 60 per cent of the claims are false, there are so many claimants, (that) it can take two years or more for a claim to be heard. In the meantime, the claimant is entitled to welfare, free medical care and other services as well as having permission to work in Canada.
Few removals of false refugee claimants
Moreover, if the IRB decides the claimant is not a genuine refugee, there is a series of appeals and reviews available to determine if there are humanitarian or compassionate reasons why the person should be allowed to remain. In addition, no one can be removed if there is an indication that if the person is sent home, he or she might face torture or death. The longer the claimant remains in the country, the better the chances are that there will be no removal. Time is on the side of the claimant. Prolongation of the time in Canada means that the authorities are either unable or unwilling to follow through with the unpleasant, expensive and time-consuming deportation process.
As a result, thousands of failed claimants are able to stay, and this adds to the attractiveness that Canada has for others who wish to use the asylum route to gain entry. The name of the game is to gain entry to the country; for the vast majority of claimants, whether their refugee claim is eventually successful or not is irrelevant. They will get to stay.
On average, it takes 4.5 years from the submission of a claim until a person who is found not to be a refugee is removed; in some cases, it takes 10 years or more. More often than not, the individual either disappears or is eventually allowed to remain in Canada. The Auditor-General’s report of 2007 pointed out that there were 42,000 warrants for the arrests of failed asylum seekers whose whereabouts were unknown and another 15,000 with addresses presumably listed with the authorities (Auditor-General, 2008).
The forced removal of failed asylum seekers is a difficult and expensive exercise, frequently fraught with emotional distress and bad publicity when the media or church groups that offer sanctuary champion individual cases. Large numbers of asylum seekers arrive with false documents or without any, so it is difficult to know where to send them when the time comes for their removal. Often it is impossible to obtain travel documents from the individual’s own country.
Removal costs range between $1,500 and $15,000 per removal but some cases can cost up to $300,000. The new Bill introduced by the Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney, estimates a cost of $540.7-million over five years for the removal of failed asylum seekers. This could be reduced considerably if, upon arrival, there were a fast screening system that would prevent obviously false claims from proceeding. Unless removal can be carried out within 48 hours, the chances of successful removal become problematic (Citizenship and Immigration, 2010).
James Bissett is a former Canadian ambassador with 36 years of service in the government of Canada. He was the Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Albania, and the High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago. From 1985 to 1990, he was the executive director of the Canadian Immigration Service.