Canadians Need Real Solutions to the Global Refugee Crisis, Not Misinformation. Seeking Asylum is Not Illegal.
MYTH: Refugee claimants are illegals.
FACT: Refugee claimants, also known as asylum seekers, have the legal right to Canada and make a refugee claim.
Crossing into Canada between ports of entry for the purpose of claiming asylum is not an illegal act. Section 133 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) states this quite clearly. Canada is a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, and its 1967 Protocol. Section 133 of the IRPA exists so that Canada can live up to our obligations under these international conventions, in this case Article 31 of the Convention which prohibits the imposition of penalties on refugee claimants on the basis of their entry to the country if done so claim asylum.
MYTH: Refugee claimants are crossing irregularly to “jump the queue” and take the “spot” of economic immigrants.
FACT: There is no “queue” to jump.
Each year, the federal government an Immigration Levels Plan that sets out ranges and targets for new Permanent Residents to Canada for each class of immigration, be that caregivers, skilled workers, sponsored spouses and dependents, government sponsored refugees, privately sponsored refugees, and others. Individuals who arrive in Canada and make an asylum claim are considered under the stream of “Protected Persons in Canada and Dependents Abroad.” Whether someone lands at an airport and claims asylum or enters Canada between official ports of entry and makes a claim, they are counted under this stream. Each year the government has an expected range of individuals who will successful make an asylum claim.
Refugee claims are heard and decided upon by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). The Board has a triage system to hear and decide on claims as efficiently as possible, generally speaking, on a first-come-first-served basis. Successive failures of Liberal and Conservative governments to adequately fund the IRB has led to significant processing delays and claim backlogs. This is a self-imposed problem that can be addressed by adequately funding and staffing the IRB to hear cases in a timelier manner.
MYTH: We’ve never experienced this before.
FACT: This is not at all new.
The reason that some refugee claimants are crossing irregularly is solely because of the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). The STCA came into effect in 2004 following increased levels of in-land refugee claims made by individuals first travelling through the United States. It blocks individuals from making a refugee claim at an authorized land port of entry if arriving in Canada from the United States. This forces individuals to cross irregularly in order to make a refugee claim, and has been occurring since the implementation of the STCA. From 2016 to now, we have seen a significant increase in these crossings due to US immigration policy under President Donald Trump which has made it abundantly clear that the United States is not a safe place for people to claim asylum.
MYTH: Canada is experiencing a refugee crisis.
FACT: The world is experiencing a refugee crisis that Canada is geographically sheltered from.
War, persecution, natural disaster, and other causes have resulted in an unprecedented level of forced displacement globally. In 2018, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that there are over 68.5 million people that have fled their homes to seek safety:
- 40 million internally displaced persons (IDPs)
- 4 million refugees
- 31 million asylum seekers
85% of the world’s displaced people are being hosted in developing countries. The top refugee-hosting countries are:
- Turkey: 3.5 million
- Uganda: 1.4 million
- Pakistan: 1.4 million
- Lebanon: 1.0 million
- Iran: 979,400
It is no wonder that more people are trying to find their way to Canada to rebuild their lives in safety. Geographic isolation from global conflicts has dramatically reduced the ability of asylum seekers to reach Canada. Through all refugee and humanitarian immigration streams, Canada aims to admit 46,450 individuals in 2019. That is equivalent to 0.07% of the world’s forcibly displaced persons.
Canada can, and needs to do more both in terms of the resettlement of refugees into Canada, and supporting the developing nations doing the heavy lifting on the ground hosting the vast majority of global refugees. This is global humanitarian crisis, not a Canadian immigration system problem. Canada must show global leadership.
Suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA)
We must recognize that so long as Donald Trump is President of the United States, it is not a safe country for asylum seekers. This is opinion that has been shared by organizations and individuals such as Amnesty International, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the Canadian Council for Refugees, former Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Lloyd Axworthy and former Canadian Ambassador to the UN Alan Rock; to name a few. The Trump administration has enacted a discriminatory travel ban; it has forcibly separated and detained children; and it will no longer accept asylum claims on the basis of gang or domestic violence. These actions go against Canadian and international humanitarian and refugee law.
By suspending the STCA, it will allow for orderly, safe crossings for asylum seekers at authorized ports of entry. This will improve safety and security for our border communities and asylum seekers. It will allow the RCMP and CBSA to channel resources and staffing to already established infrastructure that is in place ready to deal with a large number of travels each and every day. Finally, it will treat asylum seekers with the respect that they deserve.
Adequately fund and staff the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB)
The independent IRB adjudicates and makes a determination on whether or not an individual meets the criteria to be granted asylum in Canada. Unfortunately, chronic underfunding of the IRB by both Conservative and Liberal governments have resulted in claim backlogs now well over 50,000 cases. This has left refugee claimants’ lives in limbo as they wait months and years to have their claim determined. It impacts legitimate asylum seekers’ abilities to resettle and integrate, and it prolongs the time that rejected asylum claimants are able to remain in Canada. An adequately funded and staffed IRB can hear claims in a timely fashion and maintain the integrity of our immigration system.
Implement a long-term housing strategy
Currently, there is much debate about the use of hotels, shelters, and college dormitories the for temporary housing of refugee claimants. The NDP agrees that this is not a long-term solution. It is without a doubt that Canada is experiencing an affordable housing crisis. Whether its providing housing for refugees and refugee claimants, homeless Canadians, or those struggling to make ends meet, we need long-term solutions. Overcrowded shelter systems and renting out hotel rooms is not that. Durable solutions have been proposed to the Standing Committee for Immigration and various levels of government by NGOs like Matthew House and Journey Home Community Association. Let’s implement solutions that have a lasting impact.
Increase International Aid Spending to Reach 0.7% of GNI
The NDP has long held that Canada must commit to setting a timetable to reach this internationally agreed upon benchmark in order to meet our international developmental aid obligations. Canada is currently only at 0.26% and this number is declining. That is not acceptable.
I and my colleagues at the NDP have been calling for durable, proactive responses to the rise in asylum claims for nearly 2 years, and we will continue to do so. We know that is possible to maintain a world class immigration system while also living up to our humanitarian obligations internationals. I feel it is very important that we do not pit vulnerable against vulnerable. Canada is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. If we work to close the loopholes that allow for the wealthiest and most powerful to shelter billions of dollars each year from proper taxation, we can without a doubt ensure those in need here are provided with the services and supports needed to get them on their feet and contributing to our great country.