Disturbing upsurge in rejections of Eritrean refugees in Cairo by Canada

Canadian Council for Refugees

For immediate release
30 November 2009

Disturbing upsurge in rejections of Eritrean refugees in Cairo by Canada

The Canadian Council for Refugees today expressed its concern about a recent pattern of refusals of Eritrean refugees applying in Cairo for resettlement to Canada.  Applications for judicial review in ten such cases were filed with the Federal Court last Friday 27 November.

“Eritrean refugees are extremely vulnerable in Egypt, and they obviously cannot return to Eritrea where human rights abuses are rampant, so it is critical that Canada decide their cases fairly,” said Elizabeth McWeeny, CCR President. “Given the numbers of recent rejections, and the questionable grounds for refusal, we are very worried that these refugees are not getting a fair hearing.”

The CCR calls on the government to stop rejecting refugees at Cairo until these issues are investigated.  The judicial review applications similarly seek an injunction.

The CCR has long had concerns about decision-making on refugee applications made at Canadian visa offices overseas.  Some visa officers have minimal training on refugee determination and there is no appeal.  Citizenship and Immigration Canada conducted a Quality Assurance review of refugee decision-making at visa offices in 2008, but has yet to make public the findings.

The CCR started hearing about a sudden upsurge in refugee refusals at Cairo in mid-October, and has communicated its concerns to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.  Of the cases known to the CCR, all have involved a finding that the applicant is not credible.

“Of course, we expect visa officers to test the credibility of applicants,” said McWeeny.  “But we also expect them to do so with an open mind and accurate information on the region. They must have convincing reasons for concluding that the applicant is not telling the truth.  When you see a pattern of refugees rejected as not credible, on frankly flimsy grounds, you start wondering if there is a bias against the applicants.”

Some of the reasons for rejecting applicants’ credibility include that the visa officer did not believe that there could be only 2 guards for 20 prisoners or that the applicant would have joined or started to work for the Pentecostal church after it was banned.

Decisions also suggest an inadequate understanding of how to apply the refugee definition.  One decision baldly states that evading national service does not constitute persecution or violation of human rights, but recent UNHCR guidelines state clearly that military service has been politicized in Eritrea and draft evaders are at risk of persecution (UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Asylum-Seekers from Eritrea, April 2009).

“The human rights situation in Eritrea is dire: arbitrary detention and torture are widespread and minority religions are repressed,” said Tewolde Yohannes, an Eritrean-Canadian based in Calgary. “As an Eritrean who has suffered and fled such abuses, I am heartbroken to see fellow Eritreans in search of safety being rejected by a decision maker who clearly lacks basic knowledge of the realities in Eritrea.”

The CCR is gathering more evidence about refusals at Cairo and plans to do further analysis of the quality of decision-making for refugee applicants.

Contact: Colleen French, CCR Communications Coordinator, (514) 277-7223 ext. 1