Media Release
For Immediate Release
1 April 2004
Rights Groups Urge OAS to Declare Canadian Refugee Policy a Rights Abuse

A coalition of non-governmental organizations, from both Canada and the United States,* today urged the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (of the Organization of American States (OAS)) to declare Canada’s policy of returning asylum seekers to the United States without hearings to be a violation of international law.

In implementing the return or “direct back” policy, Canadian immigration officials force asylum seekers appearing at the United States-Canada border to return to the United States, and thereby potentially deny them a chance to make their claims in Canada.  Many of those already returned to the United States have been placed in detention and some have been forcibly returned to their countries of origin where they face the risk of persecution.  Returning an individual to persecution, also known as refoulement, is a serious breach of customary international law.

“The direct back policy was implemented in flagrant disregard of the impact on the basic rights of those seeking asylum in Canada,” said Janet Dench, Executive Director of Canadian Council for Refugees. “It is shameful that these asylum seekers, many of whom have endured terrible abuse in their own countries, are turned away without access to protection,” said Patrick Giantonio, Director of Vermont Refugee Assistance.  “It’s time for the international community to step in to protect their rights.”

The 30-page petition and accompanying evidence highlight the cases of three refugee claimants who were “directed back” by Canadian authorities, forced to endure months of detention in the United States, and then returned to their home countries without the chance to seek asylum in Canada.  Should the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights find in favor of the petitioners, it could order Canada to stop the direct back policy and order compensation for those forcibly returned to the United States.

“Asylum-seekers turned back from the Canadian border face arbitrary detention and refoulement in the United States.  That must stop.  That's what we are asking of the Canadian government, and that is why we have turned to the Commission,” said Alex Neve, Secretary-General of Amnesty International Canada.

*Canadian Council for Refugees, Vermont Refugee Assistance, Amnesty International Canada, Freedom House (Detroit, MI), and Global Justice Center.  The petition was also prepared with the assistance of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and Harvard Law School Advocates for Human Rights.

A copy of the petition is available at

For more information, contact:

Janet Dench,
Executive Director, Canadian Council for Refugees
Montréal, Quebec, Canada
(514) 277-7223

Patrick Giantonio
Director, Vermont Refugee Assistance
Montpelier, Vermont, United States
(802) 223-6840

Gloria Nafziger
Refugee Coordinator, Amnesty International Canada
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
(416) 363-9933 ext. 26

David Koelsch
Staff Attorney, Freedom House (Detroit, MI)
Detroit, Michigan, United States
(313) 964-4320