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Since September 11:A bad year for refugees in Canada

Montréal (11 September 2002) – In the year since the horrific events of September 11, refugees have borne the brunt of racism and denial of fundamental rights in the interests of national security, says the Canadian Council for Refugees.Some of the year’s low points:

Racist backlash: Refugees have been particularly targeted in the media and unfairly linked with terrorism.These attacks have occurred within a context in Canada of increased hate crimes and discrimination against religious and ethnic communities.The CCR calls on Canadians to work together to make our country a haven from hatred and discrimination.Those in authority and the media have a particular responsibility to combat intolerance.

New Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and Delay of the Refugee Appeal Division: In April 2002, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration announced that the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act would be implemented without the Refugee Appeal Division, an integral part of the new refugee determination process approved by Parliament.The Canadian Council for Refugees called this move “unfair to refugees, unworthy of Canada and counter to what Parliament approved.”

In response to the outcry, the Minister in late May guaranteed that he would implement the appeal for refugees within one year, although a precise date has still not been set.The CCR maintains that until the appeal is implemented, refugee claimants should have the right to a hearing before two decision-makers, not just one.

Proposed “safe third country” agreement: Over the summer of 2002, the governments of Canada and the United States have been negotiating a “safe third country” agreement to force refugees to claim asylum in whichever country they reach first.The agreement effectively closes Canada’s borders to most refugees arriving via the US.The CCR views it as a betrayal of Canada’s commitment to refugees and a potential violation of international law, which obliges Canada to ensure that refugees who knock on our door are protected.

“The agreement fails to recognize that refugees often have strong reasons to claim asylum in Canada instead of the United States,” said Kemi Jacobs, President of the CCR. “The US regularly holds refugees, including children, in detention for long periods, sometimes in jails alongside common criminals.Because of differences in law, some refugee claimants who would be accepted in Canada are denied asylum in the US. The agreement will actually make the Canada-US border less secure, not more. As the door closes, desperate refugees will try to cross the border irregularly; problems of smuggling, exploitation, accidental deaths and border enforcement will occur," said Jacobs.The CCR continues to vigorously oppose the safe third country agreement.

In the year since September 11, Canada has joined countries that take the "Not in my backyard" approach to refugees. The Canadian Council for Refugees calls on all Canadians to recall that refugees are not terrorists or criminals, but are instead victims of terrorism and human rights abuses.They are people who have been forced to leave their homes to seek the safety of Canada. They deserve a fair chance to start a new, safe and peaceful life.

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For more information, contact:

Kemi Jacobs, President (416) 588-6288 

Janet Dench, Executive Director (514) 277-7223