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
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.
Janet Dench, Executive Director (514) 277-7223 (ext. 2)
Francisco Rico-Martinez, Working Group chair (416) 469-9754