Time to end the pandemic ban on refugee claims at the border

The Canadian Council for Refugees calls on the Government of Canada to respect its fundamental obligations towards refugees by ending the pandemic ban on refugee claims at the US-Canada border.

The Canadian government justifies its prohibition of refugee claims by arguing that it is necessary on public health grounds. This was never acceptable, since refugee travel is essential travel. The Canadian government must show the world that it is not taking advantage of this pandemic to further restrict access to refugees.

Now that Canada has loosened its rules in order to admit such travellers as vaccinated tourists and international athletes, it is shocking that the door continues to be slammed shut on people seeking protection at our border.

The Canadian government has already demonstrated that we can protect public health while respecting our legal and humanitarian obligations towards refugees. There is no excuse for leaving the borders closed to this group of people.

The current border ban, recently renewed again until November 21, prohibits refugee claims made in between Ports of Entry. People who attempt to make a claim are “directed back” to the US, where they are handed over to US authorities, who may detain and deport them. Others are left homeless and without resources in the US. The Canadian government says that those directed back will be able to return to Canada at a later date, but there is no commitment as to when they can return. By turning people away at our borders, Canada risks being complicit with the violation of their rights if they are deported from the US and experience persecution in their country of origin.

Canada’s continuing prohibition on refugee claims at the US border cannot be justified by the pandemic and contravenes our international human rights obligations. The experience of recent months and the fact that many travellers are entering Canada every day demonstrate that people can safely enter to make a claim, without compromising public health.

The border ban on refugees must be lifted in order to conform to Canada’s fundamental legal obligations towards refugees. Many Canadians are horrified by the closing of our border to refugees and want to see Canada welcome people fleeing persecution in their home countries.

11 November 2021