A new refugee law heralded as a way to reduce the number of irregular migrants arriving in Canada from the U.S. has had little impact, according to Canadian government data obtained by the Star.
Immigration statistics show some 400 asylum claims have been deemed ineligible since June 21, 2019, when the rule was introduced to prevent refugees from seeking protection in Canada if they have made similar claims in other countries.
Ottawa had hoped the strategy would deter would-be refugee claimants from crossing into Canada from the U.S.
The number of ineligible cases is a drop in the bucket of the 12,000 claims made by irregular border-crossers from January to September 2019. Ottawa previously did not track asylum seekers who had made claims in other countries and so the new policy did not set a target. However, 400 is much lower than what was anticipated by even migrant rights groups who were critical of the policy change.
“We were surprised to see the low number. It is not clear how the (policy) helps by denying refugees access to the Immigration and Refugee Board,” said Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “From our perspective, this is for the government to send the message that you are not welcomed here and we don’t want you here.”
Since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, more than 50,000 irregular migrants crossed the land border for asylum in Canada. As of September, there were still 29,000 claims to be heard and determined.
The new rules were part of the Liberals’ omnibus budget bill tabled in April and came into effect in June in order to “discourage” people from making asylum claims in multiple countries.
“We’ve been working very hard over the past several months to significantly reduce the number of people who are crossing our borders irregularly,” then-Border Security Minister Bill Blair said when the changes were introduced last year.
“There’s a right way to come to the country to seek asylum and/or to seek to immigrate to this country, and we’re trying to encourage people to use the appropriate channels and to disincentivize people from doing it improperly.”
Previously, when migrants crossed the border, Canadian border officials conducted only criminal and security checks. Eligible claimants went before a refugee judge, who accepted or refused the claim.
With the rule change, border officials now also check to see if a person has made a claim in Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. or the U.S. or in more than one of those places, all of which are part of an information-sharing agreement. If there is a previous claim, authorities then decide if it is safe to deport the individual to their country of origin.
“They will still receive fair treatment and due process as they will have access to a pre-removal risk assessment prior to removal,” said immigration department spokesperson Beatrice Fenelon. “This new measure is in line with international law.”
Of the 400, 248 are undergoing the pre-removal risk assessments, but it is not known how many people were determined safe to be deported or allowed to remain, albeit without status due to the dangers in their home countries.
“The Canada Border Services Agency will ensure that all due process rights are respected while making efforts to remove the person as soon as possible, once we are able to do so,” said Judith Gadbois-St-Cyr, a spokesperson for the agency.
Toronto refugee lawyer Esther Lexchin said the new asylum restriction not only strips refugees with solid claims from accessing the system, but creates an immigration limbo for those who come from so-called moratorium countries where humanitarian conditions are so bad they cannot return.
“They can’t get status here because they are not allowed to file a refugee claim here and if they are from a moratorium country, they can’t be removed from Canada,” said Lexchin. “They are now stuck.”
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Ottawa does not deport individuals to Afghanistan, Burundi, Haiti, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Somalia (Middle Shabelle, Afgoye, and Mogadishu), Syria, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Gaza Strip, South Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen.
Asylum seekers originally from Libya and Haiti, both on the moratorium list, made up nearly a quarter of the 400 ineligible claims.
Top 10 countries of ineligible refugees due to previous claims filed elsewhere
Source: Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada, from June 21 to December 15, 2019