News Release

For immediate release
1 December 2004

Safe third country agreement closes the doors on refugees

Montreal. The Canadian Council for Refugees denounced the impending implementation of a US-Canada agreement that will close the door on many refugees seeking Canada’s protection.  The safe third country agreement, which will mean that most refugee claimants at the US-Canada border are turned away without a hearing, is due to come into effect on 29 December.

“The US is not safe for many refugees,” said Nick Summers, President.  “We will be violating our obligation to protect refugees once we start turning away people who need protection, but who won’t get it in the US because of lower standards.  If the US sends them back to persecution, torture or even death, Canada will also bear responsibility.”

Compared to Canada, the US detains many asylum-seekers for long periods, which reduces their chances of getting refugee protection, because it is difficult to prepare a refugee claim from behind bars.  The US definition of persons in need of protection is also narrower than the Canadian definition.

While the implementation of the agreement at any time would be extremely bad news for refugees, the timing is especially problematic. The US Congress is currently discussing legislative changes that, if approved, would significantly reduce the already limited protections for asylum-seekers.

Implementation of the agreement in the midst of the holiday season will cause operational problems, particularly as plans are not yet in place.  Pre-implementation pressures are already having negative consequences on refugee claimants, with 5 refugee claimants being sent back to the US from the Lacolle, Quebec, border crossing yesterday and many claimants waiting in backlogs at border points in Buffalo and Detroit.

“The agreement was negotiated in the wake of September 11, but in fact the agreement will make the border more insecure,” said Francisco Rico-Martinez, CCR working group chair.  “By stopping the orderly processing of claims at the border points, the governments are forcing refugees to look for irregular ways of crossing the border.  They are creating business opportunities for smugglers and traffickers who offer to assist claimants to enter Canada irregularly.”


Nick Summers, President, (709) 682-9329 (not available Dec. 2)
Janet Dench, Executive Director (514) 277-7223 (ext. 2)
Francisco Rico-Martinez, Working Group chair (416) 469-9754

The Canadian Council for Refugees is a non-profit umbrella organization committed to the rights and protection of refugees in Canada and around the world and to the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada. The membership is made up of over 180 organizations involved in refugee sponsorship and protection and in newcomer settlement. The CCR serves the networking, information-exchange and advocacy needs of its membership.