15 August 2017
It’s Time to Lead:
How Canada must respond to refugee claimants crossing the Canada-US border
The Canadian Council for Refugees today welcomed the constructive response from all levels of government to people currently making refugee claims at the border, particularly in Quebec. Although numbers arriving in Canada remain small compared to many other countries, the situation gives Canada an opportunity to show leadership once again in responding to refugees. Canadians can be proud of the efforts taken to ensure that the people seeking safety among us are treated with dignity and that their basic needs are met.
The CCR recommends a number of measures to improve Canada’s response:
- The federal government needs to allocate more resources to conducting eligibility determinations (the first step in entering the refugee claim process). Currently people are forced to wait months for an interview: during this time they are not even formally recognized as refugee claimants which places them in a legal limbo. This is unacceptable. In the case of people being processed at the border, the long waits appear to be against the law, since under the law claims are automatically considered eligible and referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) if no decision is made within 72 hours.
People who are in this situation of legal limbo while waiting for their eligibility interview have no access to the Interim Federal Health Program. Those affected include pregnant women and others needing health care. (The CCR appreciates the flexibility of provincial governments which have facilitated access to social assistance for those forced to wait for papers confirming their eligibility).
- The federal government should return to the prior practice of issuing an “Acknowledgment of Claim” document to claimants awaiting their eligibility document. The Acknowledgment of Claim document was used to provide access to Interim Federal Health and social assistance.
- The federal government needs to give more resources to the Immigration and Refugee Board, to increase their capacity to make refugee determinations. Even before the increase in arrivals this summer, it had already become impossible for the IRB to process claimants in a timely manner with the resources at their disposal. The IRB’s resources are even more inadequate in view of the increased number of claimants. The IRB’s newly announced Response Team simply moves resources around, unfairly forcing other refugee claimants to wait longer for their hearing.
- The federal government should withdraw from the Safe Third Country Agreement. Recent months show clearly that the Agreement does not serve the government’s intended purpose of barring people from Canada’s refugee system. On the other hand, the Agreement has the effect of concentrating most refugee claimants in Quebec, because there are more opportunities in Quebec to cross irregularly. If Canada suspended the Agreement, claimants could apply at Ports of Entry across the country.
- The refugee determination system urgently needs to be reformed so that it is fair and efficient. The CCR regrets that the government has chosen to review the IRB, rather than making immediate changes that are widely agreed to be necessary. One of the shortcomings of the current system is that refugee claimants have no opportunity to present applications on humanitarian grounds. Among the Haitians arriving there are likely some who have compelling humanitarian factors but may not meet the refugee definition: they may be quickly deported from Canada to Haiti, a country not in a position to receive thousands of returnees.
The CCR thanks all citizens, communities and government officials, who have shown solidarity with those arriving at our borders and offered them a welcome. If permitted to remain, these newcomers, like those who have come before them, will enrich our communities.