Feds reviewing inland refugee system, under pressure to scrap ‘safe countries’ list

Another issue to watch in terms of how the Liberal government finds a balance between maintaining the integrity of refugee determination and rights of refugee claimants:

The Liberal government is re-evaluating the way it treats refugee claimants who ask for protection after arriving in Canada, but won’t say whether it will scrap some of the widely criticized restrictions on some refugee claimants brought in by the previous government.

Government officials met with refugee advocacy groups and researchers July 14 to gather suggestions on what to do with Canada’s asylum system, which is used to process applications for refugee status by people who have already arrived in the country. People brought in from refugee camps abroad are processed in a different way. In 2014-15, the tribunal that decides on refugee claims in Canada was referred 13,500 claims, and the next year that creeped up to 16,500.

The government’s controversial Designated Countries of Origin (DCO) list was one of the key topics of the July 14 meeting, said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

The DCO or “safe countries” list was created by the previous Conservative government, and includes countries that, according to the government, do not usually produce legitimate refugees. The list—which currently includes 42 countries—was designed to “ensure that people in need get protection fast, while those with unfounded claims are sent home quickly through expedited processing,” says the Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada website.

However, an internal IRCC audit released this summer found that DCO claims had not been processed faster than those from other countries, leading NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.) to question what the point of the system was.

The Liberals promised during the election campaign to set up an “expert human rights panel” to determine which countries should fall on the DCO list. Since the Liberals came to power, the government has said little about how it will fulfill this promise, and IRCC and the office of Immigration Minister John McCallum (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.) declined to provide details when asked.

The promise of an expert panel wasn’t good enough to satisfy critics of the DCO list, such as the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) or Canadian Council for Refugees. CARL wrote in a brief submitted to the government in July that a human rights panel “cannot cure what is, at root, a discriminatory regime, introduced into the legislation for discriminatory purposes,” a sentiment Ms. Dench said was echoed by many in the July 14 consultation.

“There was a very clear message to the government from everybody that the designated-country-of-origin policy was not useful, was not credible, was not serving any purpose and was contrary to the [Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms],” she said.

 Critics say the DCO system kneecaps claimants from listed countries because they’re rushed through the process. They also say so-called safe countries may in fact be quite dangerous, at least to some persecuted groups or in some areas.

When asked a series of questions about the DCO system and the establishment of the expert panel, IRCC spokesperson Remi Lariviere wrote in an emailed statement that the government was considering how to make Canada’s asylum system “more fair and timely,” in part as a response to this summer’s consultations on the immigration system and to the IRCC internal audit, which identified several concerns with the system’s fairness and efficiency.

The Liberal party had also promised on the campaign trail to provide a right for claimants from DCO countries to appeal decisions by the Immigration and Refugee Board, an arm’s-length tribunal, a right they had been denied under the system set up by the Conservatives. The Liberal government has already fulfilled that promise by dropping a legal challenge initiated under the previous government to a Federal Court ruling last year, which held that the ban on appeals by DCO claimants was unconstitutional.

Department finds ‘need to reform’ system

The previous Conservative government overhauled the inland refugee system in 2012, after a rising number of refugee claims, few of which were accepted and many of which stemmed from countries the government of the day perceived to be generally safe, such as Mexico and Hungary. Canada had also recently seen two ships arrive on its shores with dozens of migrants from Sri Lanka who claimed asylum.

The IRCC conducted an audit of its asylum system at the instruction of the Treasury Board, which had committed to a review of the program three years after major reforms by the Conservative government. The audit covered the period from December 2012 to December 2014. In addition to a number of positive findings about the way the asylum system was operating, it identified a series of shortcomings in Canada’s asylum system, including that DCO claimants were not processed faster than non-DCO claimants.

The audit also found “a need to reform the in-Canada asylum system due to the increasing number of claims, growing backlogs/inventories, and lengthy processing times,” and that “failed claimants are not being removed in a timely manner.”

Source: The Hill Times

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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