Montreal. The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) today released a report, Closing the Front Door on Refugees: Report on Safe Third Country Agreement, showing that many of the worst fears about the Canada-US agreement are being realized. With the Canadian border largely closed, far fewer refugees are able to find protection in Canada: instead, some are detained and deported from the US; some are forced to live without status in the US, in fear of arrest; some turn to smugglers to help them find a way to safety.
“It is no exaggeration to describe this Agreement as a silent killer,” said Nick Summers, CCR President. “Out of sight of Canadians, asylum seekers are paying the price of Canada’s ‘Not in My Backyard’ approach to refugee protection. The fact is that the US is not safe for all refugees and Canada is failing refugees who need our protection. We call on the Canadian Government to cancel the Agreement immediately.”
The report shows that the number of people who claimed refuge in Canada in 2005 is lower than at any time since the mid-1980s. The drop in claims made at the border is especially dramatic, with only 50% as many claims as last year. Colombians have been particularly badly affected, with claims down by 70% in 2005. Based on the much lower acceptance rates for Colombians in the US compared to Canada, the report calculates that in the first year of the Agreement alone, 916 Colombians will be left without protection in either country. The report also highlights anecdotal evidence that, as predicted, the Agreement is leading to an increase in smuggling at the US-Canada border.
“We support this report and the Canadian Council for Refugee’s indomitable commitment to the protection of vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers,” said Anne P. Wilson, Executive Vice President for Service Programs for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (USA). “We continue to urge US leaders to stop policies that undermine our nation’s long term commitment to refugee protection and human rights.”
US policy changes needed include abolishing the one-year deadline for filing an asylum claim, terminating the policy of detaining asylum seekers, increasing access to counsel for all detainees, ending unfair enforcement policies against Haitian asylum seekers and addressing the shortcomings in protection mechanisms for gender-based asylum claims. “Unless these and other concerns are addressed and remedied,” Wilson concluded, “we join the Canadian Council for Refugees in calling for cancellation of this Agreement.”
“On a daily basis we witness a tragedy unfold as we inform vulnerable individuals and families that they will be denied access to protection in Canada. The impact of this agreement on the lives of threatened refugees is devastating,” said Patrick Giantonio, Executive Director of Vermont Refugee Assistance, an organization that works with US and Canadian asylum seekers, including those in detention.
The report, Closing the Front Door on Refugees: Report on Safe Third Country Agreement, can be found on the CCR web site at www.web.ca/ccr/closingdooraug05.pdf