MEDIA RELEASE

DO WE STILL THINK THE US IS A SAFE COUNTRY?

6 November 2002 -- As reports continue to mount of racial profiling at American borders, the Canadian Council for Refugees calls on the government of Canada to halt plans to sign an agreement declaring the United States a "safe third country" for refugees.

Under the terms of the agreement, set to be signed in the coming weeks, Canada will send back to the United States refugees who present themselves at the US-Canada border.  These refugees will be forced to seek protection through the US refugee determination system.

"It's ludicrous that Canada is on the verge of signing an agreement declaring the US a safe country for refugees," says Kemi Jacobs, President of the Canadian Council for Refugees. "The United States is not even a safe country for Canadian citizens; imagine how refugees might be treated!"

In recent days, Canadians have become increasingly aware of the lack of fairness in US immigration policies and procedures.

In October, Ottawa businessman Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was arrested while transiting through the US and deported to the Middle East.  He remains in a Syrian prison.  Last week, Ottawa warned Canadian citizens born in five countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Sudan) that they may want to avoid traveling to the US for fear that they would come under undue scrutiny at US airports.  Prominent Indo-Canadian author Rohinton Mistry cancelled his book tour in the US because of "unbearable humiliation" he and his wife faced at American airports.  Earlier this week, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Denis Coderre expressed his concern over US Immigration and Naturalization Service's recourse to racial profiling.

"With example after example in the US of racial profiling and lack of respect for internationally-recognized rights, how can the Canadian government even pretend that the US offers any level of protection or safety
to people from other countries?" asks Jacobs.

The Canadian Council for Refugees calls on the government of Canada to immediately halt plans to sign or implement any agreement to send refugees back to the United States. A safe third country agreement will not only close Canada's door to refugees, but will deprive them of access to fair and just procedures.

"The safe third country agreement was one of the unfortunate by-products of the response to September 11.  Refugees, like Canadians with origins in certain countries, are being unfairly associated with terrorism,"  says Jacobs.  "Canadians who are shocked by how the US government is treating non-citizens must conclude that the US is not a safe country for refugees."
 

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For more information, please contact
Kemi Jacobs, President, (416) 588-6288 (ext. 202)
Janet Dench, Executive Director, (514) 277-7223