Recently, there has been an increase in people entering from the US to make a refugee claim in Canada. There have also been distressing reports of people suffering serious frostbite as they attempt to enter Canada.
Impact of the Safe Third Country Agreement
Dangerous crossings that put people’s health and safety at risk are an entirely preventable problem. They are the direct consequence of the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada with the US, implemented in December 2004. This Agreement forces most refugee claimants arriving from the US to cross the border irregularly in order to make a refugee claim in Canada. When the agreement was signed, the Canadian government knew that it would lead to increased irregular crossings and potential physical danger for refugee claimants. The government can solve this problem by withdrawing from the Agreement: this would mean that people can once again make their refugee claims in an orderly way at a port of entry, which would be safer for everyone.
The numbers of people seeking Canada’s protection may well grow, if the incoming US President implements policies which make people currently in the US without permanent status feel that they are not safe there. We have seen this situation before, notably in the wake of the implementation by the US in September 2002 of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), resulting in many people from affected countries (predominantly majority Muslim countries) seeking safety in Canada. If a similar surge happens now, the situation will be significantly more problematic because of the existence of the Safe Third Country Agreement which prevents most people from presenting their claims in an orderly manner at a border point.
The US is not necessarily safe for refugees
The Safe Third Country Agreement is based on the premise that the US is safe for refugees. However, the CCR believes that the US is not safe for all refugees. Because of US laws and how they are implemented, some refugees who receive protection in Canada are denied refugee status in the US. In 2007, the Federal Court agreed with the CCR, ruling that the US does not always protect refugees as required under international law. There is concern that in future the US may adopt refugee policies that make it even less safe for refugees.
Canada in the global context
It is important to put the recent increased numbers of claims in Canada in a broader context. Worldwide there are over 20 million refugees. In 2016 alone, Germany received 280,000 asylum seekers – that is more than Canada received in total in the last 12 years. In 2013 refugee claim numbers in Canada dropped dramatically (just over 10,000 claims were made): since then the numbers have been gradually increasing, but they are still much small than we have seen in earlier years.
Refugees should not have to risk their lives to get to safety
Canadians are well aware of the tragic loss of lives when refugees are forced to take desperate measures to get to safety, such as getting into a rickety boat or crossing a border in freezing temperatures. We can save lives by making it possible for refugees to make a claim without having to resort to desperate measures.
12 January 2017