In Australia, a New Look at Immigration: ‘It’s About Our Friends’

Another example of how the personal trumps the official narratives by highlighting inhumanity (as was the case with Alan Kurdi or the Kamloops residential school deaths):

The 3-year-old girl was born in Australia, in a tiny town called Biloela, far from the big cities of Sydney and Melbourne. But her parents were asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and living in a country that heavily discourages illegal migration, so the government sent them to a faraway island while deciding their fate.

This week the girl, Tharnicaa Murugappan, returned to mainland Australia, but not for the reason her family had hoped — she was medically evacuated to Perth, where she is now battling a blood infection in a hospital after a lengthy illness. Supporters of the family say she was given only painkillers for nearly two weeks at the remote government detention facility while her fever rose, and she now suffers from pneumonia, which led to her blood infection.

Tharnicaa and her family, often called the “Biloela family” among Australians, are the most high-profile asylum seekers in Australia. In a country that is inured to criticism from international human rights organizations over its “draconian” immigration policy, the detentions of Tharnicaa and her older sister have drawn outrage.

Tharnicaa’s illness has renewed calls for the family to be released from detention and prompted candlelight vigils and protests across Australia. Over half a million people have signed a petition demanding the family be returned to Biloela, a town of about 5,800 that is 260 miles northwest of Brisbane. Politicians from both sides have called for the family to be released from detention while maintaining support for the hard-line immigration policies that put them there. Karen Andrews, the home affairs minister, has been so inundated with calls about the case that her voicemail specifies that anyone wanting to speak to her about it should do so in writing.

The Murugappan family — mother Kokilapathmapriya Nadesalingam, father Nadesalingam Murugappan, Tharnicaa and her 6-year-old sister, Kopika — are the only people held in the Christmas Island detention center, which is 1,000 miles north of the Australian mainland. The two sisters, who both were born in Australia, are the only two children currently being held in immigration detention in Australia. Unlike the United States, Australia does not automatically grant citizenship to children born in the country, and the two girls are ineligible as the children of “unlawful maritime arrivals.”

The case is unusual in that the small rural town of Biloela, which has been leading the fight to get the family back, is a politically conservative place. But when the family was whisked away by immigration officials in 2018 after their claims for asylum were rejected and their temporary visas expired, locals weren’t thinking about politics. This case “wasn’t about politics or asylum seekers, it was about our friends,” said Simone Cameron, a Biloela local and friend of the family.

The family has been held on Christmas Island since 2019, as they fight government efforts to deport them to Sri Lanka.

Late last month, supporters of the family said, Ms. Nadesalingam and Mr. Murugappan started raising concerns with International Health and Medical Services, the private company that provides health care for the Christmas Island detention center, after Tharnicaa developed a fever on May 24. Requests for antibiotics were ignored, and the family was only given over-the-counter painkillers and a fact sheet about common flu symptoms, even as her fever increased and she started vomiting.

Tharnicaa was hospitalized on Christmas Island on June 6, according to the supporters. The next day, she was evacuated, along with her mother, to a hospital in the mainland city of Perth. She is recovering, but doctors are still trying to find the cause of the infection.

“It was the pure negligence of them not actually giving Tharnicaa antibiotics that led to her developing pneumonia,” a family friend, Angela Fredericks, said in a phone interview on Thursday. She added that the family had to “beg and fight” for Tharnicaa to be evacuated to the mainland.

In previous statements, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has defended Tharnicaa’s treatment, saying she was evacuated to Perth as soon as it was recommended. International Health and Medical Services did not respond to requests for comment.

Une véritable honte!

On family reunification between refugees and their children:

Les gouvernements du Québec et du Canada ont ratifié en 1991 la Convention relative aux droits de l’enfant, un instrument juridique international adopté par l’Assemblée générale des Nations unies en novembre 1989. Cette convention internationale stipule dans son article 10 que toute demande formulée par un enfant ou un parent pour entrer dans un État à des fins de réunification familiale doit être traitée « dans un esprit positif, avec humanité et diligence ».

Humanité et diligence ? Le ministre canadien de l’Immigration, Marco Mendicino, a beau dire à notre collègue Lisa-Marie Gervais que le Canada est un chef de file mondial en matière de réinstallation des réfugiés, les statistiques racontent une histoire déshumanisante et brossent un portrait qui fait honte. Des parents acceptés comme réfugiés au Canada, et ayant même obtenu leur résidence permanente, attendent plus de trois ans avant de retrouver leurs petits, restés au bercail au moment de la séparation.

Faut-il rappeler qu’Estelle, Sophie et toutes ces femmes et ces hommes qui pleurent des enfants laissés derrière eux n’ont pas plié bagage un matin de légèreté pour le plaisir du périple et le goût de l’aventure ? Ces réfugiés politiques, reçus parfois pour motifs humanitaires, ont fui leur pays natal pour sauver leur vie, et parfois celle de leur famille. Rien ne dit que les enfants restés derrière eux, privés d’un de leurs parents ou même des deux, ne sont pas eux-mêmes soumis à quelques périls, comme c’est le cas de Sophie, qui craint pour la sécurité de quatre de ses enfants restés en Afrique. Elle a quitté un mari violent, et les nouvelles que lui acheminent ses voisines la font frémir. Elle craint que ses enfants soient eux-mêmes coincés dans le cycle de la violence.

Le fait que les enfants puissent rejoindre leurs parents au Canada après 39 mois d’attente est une véritable honte. Impossible d’invoquer la pandémie pour cette longue pénitence dans les couloirs de la bureaucratie, car voilà des lustres que l’enjeu de l’attente interminable est noté au tableau des horreurs. L’action rapide et efficace fut pourtant possible en 2015, lorsque le Canada a ouvert ses portes à 25 000 réfugiés syriens dans un temps record.

Le Conseil canadien pour les réfugiés demande au Canada de fixer une limite maximale honorable de six mois pour que parents et enfants puissent être réunis à une même table. Ces délais exceptionnellement courts ne devraient pas constituer l’extraordinaire, mais plutôt le cours normal des choses. Sans cela, inutile de même prétendre au moindre titre de chef de file mondial.


Japan’s proposed immigration law revisions deal fresh blow to refugees

Of note:

While Japan accepts very few refugee applications annually, legal changes designed to crack down on what the government says are abuses of the asylum process are expected to make it even harder for genuine refugees to find shelter in the country.

Japan has been criticized by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees for accepting only around 1 percent of applications it receives. In 2020, it certified just 47 people as refugees out of the 3,936 applications lodged.

Moradi, an Iranian who fled to Japan in 2007 and declined to give his full name, was granted refugee status last year after winning a case at the Tokyo High Court to conclude a 13-year legal struggle. He filed a total of three applications and two lawsuits.

“I felt like I was reborn after spending so many days just enduring. I plan to live in this country for the rest of my life,” he said through a Japanese interpreter.

The 56-year-old converted from Islam to Christianity and said he would be considered an apostate and could even face execution if he returns to Iran. Moradi now lives in Saitama Prefecture with his Iranian wife, who he later brought to Japan, and works full-time at a recycling company.

According to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, of those who were recognized as refugees by Japan between 2010 and 2018, about 9 percent, or 19 people, had applied multiple times.

But Japan’s parliament on Friday started deliberations on a bill that aims to amend the immigration law so that foreigners can be deported after they have applied for refugee status three times.

As of January 2020, there were around 82,000 foreigners illegally overstaying in Japan. Some 10,000 repatriate annually after receiving deportation orders but about 3,000 stay in the country each year, making repeated asylum applications as deportation procedures are automatically halted for people claiming refugee status.

Tomoko Uraki, a lawyer representing Moradi, said the revisions could result in the deportation of refugees who, like her client, should be protected.

“People who would be recognized as refugees in other countries are not being recognized in Japan, but that part of the law is not being revised,” she said.

Shogo Watanabe, a lawyer who specializes in helping people from Myanmar apply for refugee status, notes that none of the 2,000 Myanmarese who applied for asylum in the past three years was approved.

“It is clearly wrong to push through a provision allowing deportation after the third application before carrying out the proper practice of refugee recognition,” he said.

In a joint statement dated March 31, a group of United Nations’ experts called on the Japanese government to review its proposed revisions, saying they failed to meet international standards from the standpoint of human rights.

The bill lacks provisions specifying a maximum detention period and instead contains penalties for foreigners who refuse to return to their countries of origin, including up to one year in prison for those who physically resist while on an airplane.

Source: Japan’s proposed immigration law revisions deal fresh blow to refugees

Canada has right to turn back asylum-seekers at U.S. land border points, appeals court rules

Looks like a defeat for the more “anecdotal” approach of focussing on individual cases rather than the broader administrative oversight issue:

In a setback for refugee advocates, the Federal Court of Appeal has rejected the argument that it is unconstitutional for Canada to turn back refugees at the U.S. land border and prevent them from seeking asylum in this country.

The court sided with the federal government Thursday in overturning a lower court decision that had called into question the future of the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), amid arguments that the United States cannot be considered a safe country for asylum seekers.

The decision will have devastating effects on would-be refugee claimants, their advocates say.

“The real consequences of this decision rest with those refugee claimants who are being returned to U.S. detention facilities after being turned back and facing harm both in jail and in the U.S. asylum process,” said Amanda Aziz of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

“What is lost in this decision are the people who will continue to face real and severe harm because of the ongoing operation of the STCA.”

Under the bilateral pact, Canada and the U.S. each recognize the other country as a safe place to seek protection.

That means Canada can turn back potential refugees who arrive at land ports of entry along the Canada-U. S. border on the basis they should pursue their claims in the States, the country where they first arrived.

The agreement, which took effect in 2004, was originally touted by officials in both countries as a way to curb “asylum shopping.” However, critics have long argued that the U.S. asylum system is cruel and inhumane — critiques that grew louder during the Trump administration.

In July, the Federal Court found it unconstitutional to ban would-be claimants from attempting to enter either country at official border crossings, saying the impacts of the policy “shock the conscience.”

Justice Ann Marie McDonald had given Ottawa six months to respond and fix the policy to make sure it complies with the Canadian charter before declaring the accord invalid. That deadline was later extended at the request of the government while the appeal was being heard.

However, in its decision released Thursday, Canada’s appeal court said lawyers for asylum seekers and their supporters focused on the wrong issues in challenging the law’s constitutionality.

It said there are proper checks and balances in the legislative scheme to ensure Canadian laws and the charter are upheld, and it’s within the government’s authority to make regulations designating a country as safe for refugees.

Instead of using individual refugees’ experiences to show the bilateral pact itself violated their Charter rights, said the appeal court, lawyers for the litigants should have made a case of how existing administrative oversight has failed to safeguard their rights.

“The legislative scheme as a whole, assuming it is operated properly, is designed to protect fundamental human rights, including charter rights,” wrote Justice David Stratas in a unanimous decision on behalf of the three-member panel.

“Based on the record before us, to the extent that detrimental effects are being suffered by persons being returned to the United States, the legislative scheme as a whole is not to blame.”

The federal government welcomed the decision.

“Canada remains firmly committed to upholding a fair and compassionate refugee protection system and the STCA remains a comprehensive means for the compassionate, fair, and orderly handling of asylum claims at the Canada-U.S. land border,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair in a joint statement.

In its ruling, the appeal court said Parliament created a mechanism to monitor the designated country’s compliance on an ongoing basis.

Although the law doesn’t specify what continuing review means, who should conduct it and what should be examined in a review, a policy was developed for the assessment based on a wide variety of governmental and non-governmental sources.

The court said immigration officers also have a number of powers and discretions to make exemptions to accept claims by individuals who would otherwise be ineligible to cross into Canada and seek asylum under the Safe Third Country Agreement.

As well, refugee claimants have access to the Federal Court if they believe the circumstances of their removal warrant the court’s intervention.

“In this case, there was no evidence that could support a finding that the treatment of returnees to the United States at the Canada-United States border ‘shocks the conscience,’” said the appeal court.

“There is evidence of individual cases of substandard treatment but nothing that rises to the very high level required by the ‘shocks the conscience’ standard.”

In 2007, three advocacy groups — the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches — took Ottawa to federal court and successfully had the U.S. declared unsafe for refugees.

However, the decision was later overturned on appeal, largely on the grounds that the groups failed to find a lead individual litigant who was directly impacted by the policy.

In 2017, those groups returned to the court with a group of asylum seekers whose access to Canadian asylum was denied under the Safe Third Country Agreement to support their arguments.

This appeal court said some of the evidence, although voluminous, is piecemeal and individualized and, thus, is problematic for drawing system-wide inferences concerning the situation in the U.S.

“The value of evidence is not measured by the pound,” Justice Stratas wrote. “The evidence of the particular treatment of ten individuals — all selected by the claimants — cannot itself provide a basis for making system-wide inferences.”

Citing a previous court case that found psychological suffering inherent in the plight of refugees fleeing persecution, Stratas wrote: “One must ask whether sending refugee claimants back to the United States actually increased psychological suffering above this inherent level.”

Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees said the court’s findings were disappointing.

“The court heard the evidence of the very horrific experiences of people who were sent back to the U.S. The conditions in detention were found to be completely unacceptable by the federal court judge. Those experiences were not engaged by this court,” said Dench.

“Those experiences, the rights abuses and their suffering don’t seem to be heard in this (appeal) court.”

Source: Canada has right to turn back asylum-seekers at U.S. land border points, appeals court rules

In Denmark, Fears Grow Among Syrian Asylum Seekers As Residence Permits Are Revoked

Of note:

In 2019, Danish authorities issued a report stating that the security situation in some parts of Syria had “improved significantly.” Last year, that report was used as justification to begin reevaluating hundreds of Danish residence permits granted to Syrian refugees from the area around and including the capital Damascus.

Now some of those refugees are being told, officially, that their time in Denmark is up.

Among those affected are Heba Alrejleh and Radwan Jomaa, a couple from Damascus. Jomaa left Syria in 2013, traveling first to Egypt and later making his way to Italy. Upon landing there, he says, the Syrians on his boat set off in different directions, with some heading for Sweden and others for France.

Jomaa chose Denmark, having heard about the country’s welcoming reputation.

He was soon joined by Alrejleh and the kids — Aya, who is now 11, and Mohamed, now 10. Their youngest, four-year-old Lilian, was born in Denmark.

The family lived for several years in the town of Skive, though it was far from Jomaa’s job at a pizzeria near Aarhus.

Meanwhile, in neighboring countries like Germany and the Netherlands, friends and family who had fled Syria around the same time were starting to get permanent residence and even citizenship. Surely, they thought, the same would soon be true for themselves.

So in December, with a mind to putting down roots, the couple found a small row house just outside the city of Silkeborg. Here, their three kids could go to a quieter school, Jomaa would have a shorter commute and Alrejleh would be able to continue her studies. She dreams of becoming a nurse.

On the day they were packing to move, a notification arrived from the immigration service informing the family that they were being sent back to Syria.

Jomaa was shocked.

“This decision means life or death,” he says. “The words ‘to send us back to Syria’ means to destroy our lives.”

Jomaa says his family has nothing and no one left in Syria. Because he participated in protests against the Assad regime, he fears he would be arrested upon return.

The couple has appealed the decision, but for now their lives are on hold. The walls of their new apartment remain bare, the living room almost empty.

Alrejleh, whose first husband was killed before her eyes in Syria, says this is not the new beginning she’d dreamed of.

“All I can think about is the decision from the immigration service,” she says. “Otherwise I would be doing many things: continuing my studies, raising my children, dreaming about their future. Lots of things. But it’s all at a standstill.”

Jomaa, who says he’s been having nightmares, doesn’t understand why Denmark would do this.

“The name Denmark used to be a shining example when it came to human rights. But now racism is ruining Denmark’s reputation in the whole world,” he says.

But scaring asylum seekers away seems to be the government’s goal, says Michala Bendixen, who heads the Danish advocacy group Refugees Welcome.

“We have a new expression now among migrant researchers called ‘negative nation branding,'” she explains. “We’re trying to scare people away from Denmark, deliberately, by telling stories about how bad life is as an asylum seeker is here, how very, very limited your rights will be if you are granted asylum — that you should never feel safe or secure about your future here, because even if you are among the lucky ones who are granted asylum, you will be kicked out sooner or later.”

Bendixen says Denmark has been moving in this direction for decades. But the country’s most recent hard turn on immigration is part of an attempt by the center-left government, voted into office in 2019, to capture the populist vote back from the far right.

It’s referred to as the “paradigm shift” and also underlies a current debate about whether to bring home Danish children of women who joined ISIS and are now stranded in refugee camps abroad.

Politically, this strategy has helped the Social Democrats. But Bendixen says it’s also putting Denmark on a cliff’s edge when it comes to international humanitarian law.

“They’re trying to find out where is the limit, actually,” she says. “They’re stepping as close to the limit or a little bit across it to see ‘how far can we go?'”

But even as organizations like Amnesty International and the United Nations criticize Denmark’s stance on refugees, Bendixen says international guidelines on repatriation are open to interpretation, making the government’s policy hard to challenge.

The irony is that because Denmark has not resumed diplomatic relations with Syria, rejected asylum seekers cannot actually be deported.

Of the 94 Syrian refugees who lost their Danish residence permits in 2020, some — like Jomaa and Alrejleh — are still under appeal. If they’re lucky, these people may be granted a more protected status and allowed to stay.

But Bendixen says some 30 people have already lost their appeals. The choice, at that point, is either to live indefinitely in a Danish deportation center, go back to Syria voluntarily — or go underground and try to start over in another European country.

When Denmark’s Integration Minister Mattias Tesfaye announced last June that the government would be reevaluating residence permits, he emphasized that Syrian refugees who choose to go back get a “bag of money” from Denmark in order to rebuild their lives in Syria.

The government will provide funds for travel costs, four years of medical coverage, plus a flat sum of about $23,000 per adult. But last year, only 137 of Denmark’s roughly 35,000 Syrian refugees took advantage of that offer — which Bendixen says speaks volumes about conditions in Syria.

When asked what will happen to his family if their appeal is denied, Jomaa sits quietly for a moment as his eyes fill with tears.

“I don’t have an answer,” he says.

He and Alrejleh have tried to protect their children from what’s happening, but it’s hard to hide the frustration.

Still, 11-year-old Aya knows she does not want to go back to Syria, which she remembers only vaguely as a place where “many people died.” Now, speaking in perfect Danish, she says that Denmark, her new home, is a good place.


“Because,” she says, “people don’t go around killing each other.”

Source: In Denmark, Fears Grow Among Syrian Asylum Seekers As Residence Permits Are Revoked

Ottawa to extend eligibility criteria for Yazidi refugees: Mendicino


Ottawa is adopting a new policy to help more Yazidis and other survivors of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant reunite with their families in Canada, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said Tuesday.

Mendicino said it will allow more Yazidi refugees to join extended family members, including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

The Yazidis and other groups who survived abuse, torture and even genocide at the hands of ISIL are among the most vulnerable refugees in the world, he said.

“Guided by compassion, we are now redoubling our efforts to reunite their families.”

The Immigration Department said the new policy will help Yazidis and members of other communities in Northern Iraq to start new lives in Canada.

These refugees were victims of threats or acts including sexual slavery, general enslavement, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, family separation and forced displacement, the department said.

Canada has welcomed more than 1,400 survivors of ISIL from Northern Iraq since 2017.

This includes 1,356 government-assisted refugees and 94 privately sponsored ones. Women and girls comprise the vast majority.

The Yazidi newcomers have been primarily resettled to Toronto, London, Ont., Winnipeg and Calgary where Yazidi communities existed and adequate support, including medical, social and interpretation services, was in place.

Source: Ottawa to extend eligibility criteria for Yazidi refugees: Mendicino

Canada a bright light in a horrible year for refugee resettlement: UN refugee agency


Of note:

The year 2020 will go down as the worst for refugee resettlement in recent history, says the UN refugee agency’s Canadian representative.

With nearly 168 countries implementing border and travel restrictions, millions of displaced people around the globe were stuck, unable to either return to their home countries or move to others.

Canada, however, was one of only a few that did listen to urgent pleas from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said Rema Jamous Imseis, the UNHCR’s Canadian representative.

Even at the height of the pandemic, when most countries were looking entirely inward, Canada did accept emergency cases and as travel has resumed continues to take in more, she told The Canadian Press in an interview.

“It hasn’t, unfortunately, been at the levels that we had planned for prior to the pandemic, but it still is offering that critical lifeline to people who desperately need it,” she said.

“And we hope that next year actually is going to bring us a very different context and an ability not only to meet those targets, but to perhaps even exceed them.”

Canada had planned to resettle around 30,000 refugees in 2020.

By the end of September, just under 6,000 had arrived, and a spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the end-of-year figure will be closer to 7,000.

The target for resettlement next year is 35,000, but how realistic that goal is considering the unknowns around the end of the pandemic is unclear.

Mendicino’s spokesman said in an email that the entire resettlement “ecosystem” continues to operate at a reduced capacity, but is slowly spooling back up.

“While our operations have been affected, we’ve come a long way since the onset of the pandemic and are now processing nearly six times as many refugee cases as in a similar period last year,” Alexander Cohen said in an email.

The border closures weren’t the only challenge this year for refugees, said Jamous Imseis.

Many of the world’s displaced people were just scraping by economically before the pandemic hit, but their sources of income completely dried up, she said.

“The ability to sustain themselves and their families has been wiped out,” she said.

“So you saw entire populations going from vulnerable, but with the ability to sustain themselves overnight to becoming really vulnerable.”

There’s also been a massive blow to the ability of children to be in school. A pivot to online learning possible in some developed nations just isn’t applicable elsewhere, she said.

Some studies suggest more than half of refugee girls may never go back to post-secondary education after the pandemic, she said.

“They haven’t been at school this whole time, and they may never go back because life circumstances have changed so dramatically,” she said.

Monday is the UNHCR’s 70th anniversary. It was created to help displaced Europeans after the Second World War and originally was only supposed to exist for a few years.

“But sadly, we’re still here and it signals the failure of the international community to really address long-standing issues, and drivers of displacement globally,” said Jamous Imseis.

“We look forward to the day when our services are no longer needed.”

Source: Canada a bright light in a horrible year for refugee resettlement: UN refugee agency

Canada has turned back 4,400 asylum seekers in 5 years

Of note. A bit less than the 55,000 or so that crossed the border:

Canada has turned away at least 4,400 asylum seekers at the U.S. border since 2016 — including some who were hoping to find refuge here at the height of the global pandemic — according to newly released government figures.

Nearly half of those trying to enter Canada over that five-year period made the attempt in the year after U.S. President Donald Trump took office, according to figures released in response to a parliamentary request from NDP MP Jenny Kwan.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which has been in effect since 2004, Canada and the U.S. consider each other to be “safe countries” for refugees and require them to make their claims in the country they arrive in first.

The agreement has long faced criticism and legal challenges from refugee advocacy groups, who say the agreement is an inhumane way to limit the number of people Canada accepts as refugees. They say the U.S. is not a safe country for all refugees and that the dangers they face have increased under the Trump administration.

The federal government is appealing a Federal Court ruling earlier this year that found the STCA infringed Charter rights.

The figures provided to Kwan show there was a spike in the number of asylum seekers turned back at the border after Trump was elected in 2016 and took office in 2017.

In 2016 there were 742 people turned back at the border. That figure jumped to 1,992 in 2017. There were 744 denied entry in 2018 and 663 in 2019.

Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 23 this year — a period which captures the height of the first wave of COVID-19 — 259 people were turned back at the border.

‘Even more precarious’

Kwan called that “really disturbing.”

“In the face of a pandemic, things are even more precarious for people who need to get to safety and Canada actually did not hesitate to turn people back,” she said.Kwan said the Trump administration imposed detention and deportation policies that violated international human rights and provoked widespread fear among refugees. By turning away asylum seekers, Canada is “complicit” in the violation of their rights, she said.

Kwan said Canada should immediately suspend the STCA and work to negotiate a new agreement with U.S. president-elect Joe Biden that addresses human rights issues. But she said the “aggressive and intense” detention policies could linger.

“I think even with the Biden administration, that policy may still continue to exist, and even if the Biden administration wants to make changes, it’s not going to happen overnight,” she said.

Mary-Liz Power, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, said the government appealed the Federal Court ruling because it believes there were errors in key findings of fact and law.

She said the decision mistakenly suggests that all asylum claimants who are ineligible under the STCA and turned back to the U.S. are automatically detained as a penalty. She also noted that the U.S. remains a party to the UN Refugee Convention.

Refugee pact ‘fair, compassionate’: Blair spokesperson

“The STCA, which has served Canada well for 16 years, ensures that those whose lives are in danger are able to claim asylum at the very first opportunity in a safe country,” she said.

“We are in continuous discussions with the U.S. government on issues related to our shared border. We believe that the STCA remains a comprehensive vehicle for the fair, compassionate and orderly handling of asylum claims in our two countries.”

As for the spike in numbers in 2017, Power said that 2017-2018 recorded the highest number of globally displaced individuals since the Second World War.

Justin Mohammed, human rights law and policy campaigner for Amnesty International Canada, said a number of factors could have driven that sharp increase, including global patterns and Trump’s policies.

He said Canada should be fulfilling its international obligations under international refugee law at all times — even during a pandemic, when safety concerns are heightened.

Mohammed pointed to exemptions made for students, family reunification and other immigration classes that allow people to arrive in Canada despite travel restrictions.

“Why are refugees being excluded from that? They’re able to quarantine or be required to have a quarantine plan just like anyone else … so why is there not the ability to be able to provide protection?” he said.

Partial picture

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said the 2020 figures represent only a partial picture of the people turned back to the U.S. because of added restrictions after the border closed March 20.

At that time, refugee claimants were denied entry on public health grounds whether they arrived at an official point of entry or at another crossing — such as Roxham Road in Quebec — where the STCA does not normally apply.

Despite assurances the Canadian government says it received from the U.S. that refugee claimants directed back would not be subject to enforcement such as detention or removal, Dench said refugee advocates in Canada know of at least two people who were detained in the U.S. after being directed back.

Conservative immigration critic Raquel Dancho said the Liberal record on administering the refugee and asylum system was one of “mismanagement, years-long backlogs and failure,” even before the pandemic.

“Conservatives have long been calling on the government to close illegal border crossings and work with their American counterparts to close the longstanding loopholes in the Safe Third Country Agreement so that refugee and asylum seekers have a fair, compassionate and effective pathway to come to Canada,” she said in a statement.

Source: Canada has turned back 4,400 asylum seekers in 5 years

Québec suspend le parrainage de réfugiés pour les organismes

Of note:

Pour se donner le temps d’enquêter sur de possibles cas de fraudes, le ministère de l’Immigration a décidé de suspendre pendant un an le dépôt de dossiers de parrainage de réfugiés pour les organismes provenant de partout au Québec. Selon ce nouvel arrêté ministériel émis mercredi par la ministre de l’Immigration, Nadine Girault, seuls les groupes de 2 à 5 personnes seront ainsi autorisés à déposer des dossiers de parrainage dans le cadre d’un nouveau mécanisme d’envoi en ligne qui abandonne le système du « premier arrivé, premier servi » au profit d’un tirage au sort.

« Cette décision s’explique par la tenue d’enquêtes pénales et administratives visant des organismes à la suite d’allégations sérieuses qui mettent en cause l’intégrité des actions de certains organismes et la protection des personnes réfugiées », peut-on lire dans un communiqué du ministère. Ces changements surviennent après que le ministre de l’Immigration, de l’Intégration et de la Francisation (MIFI) de l’époque, Simon Jolin-Barrette, a reconnu les ratés du processus en janvier dernier et promis de revoir le mécanisme de réception des demandes.

En colère, plusieurs organismes se plaignent d’avoir été tous mis dans le même panier et d’être ainsi pénalisés pour quelques possibles fraudeurs. « On dit à tout le monde d’arrêter parce qu’il y a des problèmes avec certains joueurs. C’est injuste », a lancé Paul Clarke, d’Action réfugiés Montréal. « L’analogie que je fais, c’est une classe où quelques élèves n’auraient pas fait leurs devoirs, mais on demande à tous les élèves de rester en retenue. » M. Clarke est d’autant plus déçu qu’il a des réfugiés sur sa liste d’attente depuis au moins 5 ans.

« Je suis atterrée », a lancé pour sa part Nayiri Tavlian, de l’organisme Hay Doun, qui poursuit sa mission humanitaire de parrainage depuis près de 15 ans. « Ce programme-là fait la fierté du Québec. Je ne comprends pas qu’on mette la hache de cette manière sous prétexte que certains font des choses irrégulières », a-t-elle dit visiblement en colère. « C’est de la manipulation. »

Rappelons qu’en 2017, le gouvernement libéral d’alors avait suspendu pour 18 mois le programme de parrainage privé, notamment à la suite d’allégations d’irrégularités et de fraudes, où des organismes demandaient d’importantes sommes à des familles de réfugiés, et souvent, sans leur donner l’encadrement nécessaire à leur arrivée.

Nayiri Tavlian soutient que son organisme est un de ceux qui ont toujours collaboré avec le ministère et même dénoncé des choses qui n’allaient pas. Même qu’avec d’autres organismes, Hay Doun réclame depuis deux ans des détails sur cette reddition de compte. « [Le ministère] voulait qu’on fasse des rapports. Alors on a dit “parfait, qu’attendez-vous de nous ? Envoyez-nous des formulaires !” Mais on n’avait pas de réponse. »

Or, ces rapports n’auraient été exigés que très récemment, confirme Paul Clarke, d’Action réfugiés Montréal. « Tout d’un coup, au mois de septembre, les organismes expérimentés comme le nôtre, on a reçu un document [du ministère] qui nous demandait de fournir un rapport financier depuis deux ans et un rapport d’établissement pour voir comment on avait géré l’accompagnement de tous les gens qu’on a accueillis depuis deux ans », a-t-il raconté.

Le directeur de la Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes (TCRI), Stephan Reichhold, craint pour sa part que cette décision du ministère nuise à la réputation des organismes et du programme lui-même. « On est très déçus de la décision. Ça va donner des arguments aux groupes anti-réfugiés qui vont s’emparer de ça et dire qu’en plus de faire venir des réfugiés, les organismes sont des fraudeurs. »

750 dossiers aux « groupes 2 à 5 »

Comme le ministère de l’Immigration maintient la même limite de 750 dossiers pour ce programme, c’est la catégorie des « groupes de 2 à 5 personnes physiques » qui hérite de la totalité des places, ce qui constitue une forte augmentation puisqu’elle était limitée à 100 demandes.

Du 6 avril au 5 mai 2021, ces groupes de particuliers pourront donc déposer une demande de parrainage (maximum deux) par voie électronique, à raison d’une demande par envoi. Le ministère procédera à un tirage au sort parmi les demandes reçues, un mécanisme qui crée un malaise, selon le directeur de la TCRI. « C’est complètement en contradiction avec la mission d’un programme humanitaire qui aide les réfugiés. Le fait qu’on parle de sauver des vies sur la base d’un procédé aléatoire soulève des questions sur le plan éthique », a soutenu M. Reichhold.

Quebec is suspending all private refugee sponsorships by organizations because it says it has serious concerns with the integrity of the program.

The province said today that until November 2021, only groups of two to five people can privately sponsor a refugee.

All larger organizations including church groups and non-profits that have privately sponsored refugees for years are shut out of the program for the next 12 months.

The government published its decision in the Official Gazette and did not give details other than saying it had serious concerns about the integrity of certain practices within the framework of the program.

Quebec’s Immigration Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

Paul Clarke, executive director of Action Refugies Montreal, a non-profit that has sponsored refugees to Quebec since the 1990s, called the government’s decision unfortunate.

Clarke says legitimate organizations such as his have been put under a cloud of suspicion following the suspension. He says it’s unfair to punish his group for the alleged mistakes of others.

“They are using a sledgehammer when they should be using surgical tools,” Clarke said in an interview, in reference to the Immigration Department.

Quebec’s decision to suspend private refugee sponsorships from organizations does not reduce the number of refugees who can apply to immigrate to the province.

Clarke said the government has allowed about 750 applications for the last couple of years and will do so for 2021.

The published public order says the government has “serious concerns about the integrity of certain practices of legal persons within the framework” of the private refugee sponsorship program.

Source: Quebec suspends private refugee sponsorships by organizations for one year

Canada urged to offer safe haven to Hongkongers


Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole is calling on the Canadian government to urgently adopt special measures that provide a safe haven for Hong Kong residents facing persecution under a harsh national security law imposed by China on the former British colony.

Mr. O’Toole said Canada must also be prepared to support the 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong. This would include evacuation assistance if it becomes necessary for Canadian citizens to flee the Asian financial hub as Chinese security forces continue their crackdown on civil rights.

Special immigration and refugee measures are also needed to provide a “lifeboat” for non-Canadian Hongkongers who are being harassed by Chinese security forces and Hong Kong police, he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

“We have to have special provisions,” Mr. O’Toole said. “There is a need for us to provide a refugee route for pro-democracy activists who are now living in a police state and cannot access the process of satisfying the requirements, when dealing with Canadian consular services, to use Express Entry or any other way they can visit Canada.”

It’s been more than three months since Beijing enacted the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security, which criminalizes opposition and dissent in Hong Kong. Western countries including Canada have accused the Chinese government of breaking a treaty with Britain that pledged to leave human and civil rights in Hong Kong untouched for 50 years after the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997.

This new law spells trouble for the multitude of Hongkongers who have opposed Beijing’s efforts to erode rights in the Asian city, including the more than 7,000 charged in connection with past protests or those under surveillance by Hong Kong police.

Canada’s arm’s-length Immigration and Refugee Board recently granted asylum to two Hong Kong activists, as The Globe first reported, but their case was unusual in that they came to Canada in late 2019, and neither face charges back home for taking part in pro-democracy protests. More than 45 other activists who arrived before the coronavirus pandemic have also applied to be accepted as refugees.

Mr. O’Toole’s call for immediate action to help Hongkongers comes days after the House of Commons committee on citizenship and immigration voted unanimously to investigate measures to provide a haven for them.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan, who put forward the motion, said the Trudeau government is doing nothing, and Hongkongers are growing desperate.

“It’s been all talk and no action,” she said. “The Liberals always find the right words to say but they never follow up with action.”

There are several hundred thousand Canadians of Hong Kong origin living in Canada and 300,000 Canadian citizens living there now.

Mr. O’Toole said action is needed especially after China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, recently warned Ottawa against granting asylum to pro-democracy dissidents from Hong Kong. Mr. Cong said last week that such action could jeopardize the “health and safety” of 300,000 Canadians living there.

“I have actually met a few people in Canada who cannot return to Hong Kong because they fear for their lives, and knowing what we know about the situation there, I think we have to offer them safe haven,” Mr. O’Toole said.

One problem facing Hongkongers trying to flee now is pandemic travel restrictions that prevent them from boarding an aircraft bound for Canada. Before COVID-19, they could travel to Canada as a tourist and ask for asylum upon arrival – but not any more. They are fearful of declaring their intention to seek asylum while in Hong Kong, where they could be monitored, or are being watched by police, or already face charges for pro-democracy demonstrations.

Another option is for them to apply as economic immigrants through Ottawa’s Express Entry program, but that is a difficult route. Express Entry is for high-talent immigrants and it also requires a certificate from Hong Kong’s police, who are under the thumb of Beijing’s Ministry of Security.

The NDP’s Ms. Kwan hopes Ottawa could set up a system similar to that established by successive governments to help persecuted gay Iranians and Chechens reach Canada. Such a process would allow designate non-governmental organizations to play a role in helping arrange documents for Hongkongers’ passage out of the Asian city, perhaps via a third country.

She also recommends that Ottawa loosen family reunification rules so that a greater number of family relations in Canada could easily sponsor arrivals from Hong Kong. It’s harder for Canadians to sponsor relatives to immigrate to Canada if they are not a spouse, partner or children.

Canadian supporters of Hong Kong dissidents say the problem with using programs such as Express Entry is that applicants from Hong Kong do not generate sufficient points to merit acceptance.

Robert Falconer, a research associate at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy and an external adviser to Alliance Canada Hong Kong, said there could be a solution. If Canada is concerned about China seeing it grant asylum to many dissidents from Hong Kong, and would prefer to bring them in as economic migrants, he said, perhaps there could be a special code that applicants can add to their Express Entry applications. The code would artificially raise the point total so they can be accepted.

Mr. Falconer said groups such as Alliance Canada Hong Kong could be empowered to distribute these codes to dissidents in Hong Kong.

“For all appearance, they would come in as economic-stream immigrants,” he said.