2010: A Year in Review

The Canadian Council for Refugees believes in treating refugees and immigrants fairly and honourably.  Decisions made need to be fully independent.  And our policies and practices need to be affordable – for refugees and immigrants, and for Canadians.

How did 2010 match up to these standards?

Responding to the earthquake in Haiti

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Nearly a year after the earthquake, Pierre-Matthieu is still waiting to be reunited with his mother in Canada.

The year began with the horrific earthquake in Haiti.  Among the many urgent needs was flexible and expedited processing to reunite affected families.

Would Canada respond honourably to these needs?

Citizenship and Immigration Canada reacted swiftly, introducing Special Immigration Measures.  As a result, many individuals whose homes had been destroyed were able to travel to Canada to reunite with family members here.  The Government of Quebec introduced a special humanitarian sponsorship program designed to open the door to affected family members who don’t meet the narrow definition of Family Class.

Despite these commendable government initiatives, there have been many frustrations:

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Increase in the number of privately sponsored refugees

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Canadians are fortunate to have the opportunity to personally contribute towards offering refugees a safe and permanent home, through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program.

This program, which is unique in the world, enables individual Canadians do their part to honour our international obligations towards refugees, in addition to the efforts of the government.

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Refugees denied a fair hearing overseas

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Refugees overseas applying for resettlement to Canada are interviewed by a Canadian visa officer who decides whether they in fact meet the refugee definition.  That decision-making process needs to be fair: refugees’ safety and future lives depend on the decision.

Unfortunately, the quality of refugee decision-making at visa offices overseas varies enormously.  In 2010, unfairness at the Cairo visa office was a particular concern, but the CCR believes the problems there reflect systemic shortcomings.  Visa officers are often inadequately trained and  decisions are rarely reviewed by the courts or monitored internally.

In March 2010, the CCR released a report, Concerns with refugee decision-making at Cairo, giving a detailed analysis of 17 cases, all Eritrean refugee applicants rejected at Canada’s visa office in Cairo since September 2009.  The report highlights serious problems such as lack of basic knowledge of realities in the refugees’ country of origin, basic errors in applying the refugee definition, and multiple flaws in credibility assessments.

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Continued long delays in processing at Nairobi

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In 2010, Nairobi continued to be one of Canada’s slowest visa offices, particularly for refugee families.  Privately sponsored refugees wait on average over 3 years; family members of refugees, including children, wait on average 2 years and 4 months.

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Refugee Reform

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Unlike the overseas refugee process, the in-Canada process has historically received significant public attention.  This was particularly true in 2010. During the year, Parliament adopted significant changes to the process – changes that will only come into effect late in 2011.

The refugee determination system needs to be fully fair and independent, in order to ensure that Canada honours its obligations under the Refugee Convention not to send refugees back to persecution.

Bill C-11, tabled in Parliament in March, rightly aimed at making the process quicker, but contained many elements that would make the process seriously unfair.  By the time the bill was passed in June, Parliamentarians had agreed to amendments that made the final version of the bill much fairer.

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Refugees arriving by boat and Bill C-49: anti-smuggling or anti-refugee?

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In the summer of 2010, close to 500 Tamil refugee claimants arrived on the West Coast aboard the MV Sun Sea. Although this mass arrival presented practical and logistical challenges, the numbers were still small in terms of claims made in Canada (less than 2% of claims per year) or the 15,000 Burmese refugees that fled into Thailand in one week in November.

honourable photoRegrettably, instead of affirming the need to respect international obligations towards refugees, the Canadian government’s public comments on the boat arrivals focused on suspicions of associations with terrorism and smuggling, thus encouraging negative public opinion.

This was followed up in October by the tabling of Bill C-49, a bill that was presented as being anti-smuggling. In fact, however, most of the provisions of the bill would punish refugees.  Legal experts strongly condemned the bill as contrary to the Charter and international law.

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Canada’s stateless children

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As feared, recent changes to the Citizenship Act have led to children of Canadian citizens being born stateless.

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Temporary migrant workers

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More and more Canadians are becoming aware of the problems created by the recent increase in the numbers of workers admitted to Canada with only temporary status.  Temporary Foreign Workers are vulnerable to exploitation and there have been numerous reports of abuse.

The regulations relating to temporary workers were amended in 2010, but disappointingly the changes failed to address the most pressing needs:

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