Media Release
For Immediate Release
25 September 2007
Canadian refugee system made vulnerable by government inaction

The Canadian Council for Refugees today charged the Canadian government with undermining the refugee claim system by creating a rapidly growing backlog through its continuing failure to appoint sufficient decision-makers.

“Refugee claims need to be rapidly decided, so that those who need Canada’s protection get it quickly and those who don’t won’t be tempted to join the process simply because it is slow,” said Elizabeth McWeeny, President.  “Unfortunately, the government continues to leave the Immigration and Refugee Board short of more than a third of its refugee decision-makers.  This results in rapidly increasing processing times, which cause hardship for refugees and act as an incentive for people in the U.S. to make a claim in Canada, even if they expect that their claim will eventually be refused.”

The Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board should have 127 members, but because of government failure to appoint or re-appoint, it is short 46 members (37% of the complement).  The result is a dramatically growing backlog.  At the end of 2005, there were 20,552 claims waiting to be heard.  At the end of August 2007, the number of claims pending had grown to 30,891.  At the current rate of processing (1) it will take nearly two and a half years to process this backlog.
Recent complaints of Canada being “flooded” with refugee claimants from the U.S. are seriously exaggerated.  Canada has in the past seen much larger numbers arriving from the U.S., including during the period when the U.S.’s Special Registration program, targeting males from mostly Muslim countries, forced many to flee beginning in late 2002.  Based on arrivals January-August 2007, Canada is likely to receive about 24,000 refugee claimants this year – an increase of less than a 5% compared with 2006, and far fewer than some previous years.  And the numbers arriving in Canada are trivial compared to the numbers of, for example, Iraqi refugees who have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries in that region.

Nevertheless, the serious weaknesses in the U.S. immigration program, combined with the impact of unscrupulous agents who promote immigration to Canada based on false information, make it more important than ever that the government ensure that the refugee determination system has enough qualified decision-makers to process claims in a fair and timely manner.  The government also needs to do more to confront unscrupulous agents who sell false information about Canadian programs to vulnerable people.

Janet Dench, Executive Director, tel. 514-277-7223 (ext. 2)
Colleen French, CCR Communication Coordinator, tel. 514-277-7223 (ext. 1)

1. From Jan-August 2007, the Refugee Protection Division finalized 8,666 claims, from which we can project a year end figure of 13,000 claims finalized. Compare this with the rate in 2005, when 27,212 claims were finalized. The current rate of processing is significantly below the rate at which claims are entering the system (in 2006, 22,873 claims were referred to the Refugee Protection Division).