Canadian Council for Refugees
For immediate release
6 May 2011
Federal Court rules refugees in Cairo unfairly rejected by Canada
The Canadian Council for Refugees today welcomed the Federal Court’s ruling that four Eritrean refugees were unfairly refused by the Canadian visa office in Cairo.
The four cases are representative cases of a group of 40 Eritreans, all rejected by the same visa officer.
In four judgments issued May 5, 2011, the Federal Court overturned the visa officer’s decision in each case. Among the errors found by the Court were that:
- The visa officer failed to consider the fact that the applicant had been found to be a refugee by the UNHCR;
- The visa officer failed to assess relevant risks of persecution, including on the basis of gender persecution, military desertion and departure from Eritrea without a permit;
- Many of the visa officer’s findings of lack of credibility were unreasonable.
For example, the visa officer did not believe two applicants were Pentecostal, and therefore at risk of persecution, because they were unable to name the “seven gifts of the Holy Spirit”. The Court ruled this an inappropriate and arbitrary test, and noted that the visa officer admitted that she knew little of the Pentecostal faith and how it is practised in Eritrea.
The visa officer also found implausible the ratios of guards to prisoners claimed by two applicants who had escaped imprisonment in Eritrea, and therefore rejected their stories. The court ruled that the officer’s finding of implausibility was “pure speculation or conjecture”.
The CCR has been raising concerns about refusals of Eritreans at Cairo since the fall of 2009. In March 2010 the CCR released a detailed report of 17 such refusals, highlighting many of the same errors as the Federal Court.
The CCR has longstanding concerns about the quality of refugee decision-making at visa offices overseas. While the cases at issue were decided by one particular visa office, the CCR believes they reflect systemic shortcomings. Visa officers are often inadequately trained, decisions are rarely reviewed by the courts or monitored internally, and there are few witnesses to interviews, which are not recorded. The system thus lacks accountability.
The four individuals whose decisions were overturned are now entitled to a new decision by a different visa officer. With respect to the other individuals in this group, the CCR hopes that a settlement can be reached quickly, leading to them also being granted new hearings.
These cases demonstrate the need for a mechanism to correct obviously flawed decisions by visa officers, without requiring lengthy and expensive court processes. Most refugees outside Canada have no means of bringing an application to the Federal Court.
The refugees whose cases were unfairly rejected have been forced to endure acute hardship in Cairo. They face limited legal rights, arrest and harassment by authorities, sexual harassment and routine racial discrimination. Several of these refugees recently shared with the CCR some of the difficulties of their lives, as documented in Eritrean refugees awaiting Federal Court decision suffer acute hardship in Cairo.
For further information, please contact:
Colleen French, Canadian Council for Refugees: 514 277-7223 ext. 1, firstname.lastname@example.org
Federal Court decisions:
See also the following CCR publications:
Report, Concerns with refugee decision-making at Cairo, 31 January 2010
Release and backgrounder, Eritrean refugees awaiting Federal Court decision suffer acute hardship in Cairo, 5 April 2011
Release, Refugees overseas denied a fair hearing, CCR report shows, 25 March 2010
Release, Disturbing upsurge in rejections of Eritrean refugees in Cairo by Canada, 30 November 2009