Government hinders refugee applicants
By ELIZABETH THOMPSON, NATIONAL BUREAU, SUN MEDIA
OTTAWA — First it was Mexico and the Czech Republic.
Now, the federal government has made it harder for citizens of Haiti and four other countries to apply for refugee status in Canada.
Under regulations that went into effect yesterday, citizens of countries Canada judges too dangerous to deport people back to will no longer benefit from special treatment when they arrive at the Canada-U.S border to claim refugee status.
Instead, under the Canada-U.S Safe Third Country agreement, they will be turned back at the border and told to apply for refugee status in the U.S.
Previously, refugee claimants from Haiti, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and Zimbabwe were allowed to enter Canada, where they could stay while they made their claims.
The group that will be the most affected by the new measure will be Haitians, who accounted for 3,956 of the 5,037 people who qualified for the special treatment in 2008.
In a document quietly tabled in the House of Commons Wednesday, the government says it feared the number of Haitian refugees arriving at the Canada-U.S border was about to rise.
“Numbers may increase over the coming months, as the U.S. has recommenced removals to Haiti after the termination of an administrative deferral following hurricane damage in 2008.”
At the same time, the government announced that it will resume deportations to Burundi, Liberia and Rwanda ,which were previously on the special-treatment list. Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said conditions in those countries have improved and it is now safe to send failed refugee claimants back.
The move comes a week after Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Canada’s decision to impose visas on visitors from Mexico and the Czech Republic in a bid to reduce the number of refugees from those countries.
Together, the measures announced by Kenney will reduce the number of people able to claim refugee status in Canada by more than 40%, says Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.
“This is a dramatic move, closing the door on refugees.”
While Canada does not deport failed refugee claimants back to Haiti because it believes the country is too dangerous, the United States has been actively deporting Haitians, Dench said. Canada also recognizes some grounds for refugee status that the U.S doesn’t, such as gender persecution, she pointed out.
The move also drew the ire of opposition critics like NDP MP Olivia Chow and Bloc Quebecois MP Thierry St. Cyr who said the solution is to improve Canada’s refugee determination system — not close the doors to refugees.