Douglas Todd: ‘Religious persecution’ claimed by more asylum seekers in Canada

Of interest, including the sensible perspective of Richard Kurland “Canadians don’t have to light their hair on fire.”:

A rising number of “irregular migrants” are arriving in Canada and saying they are victims of religious persecution.

Many of the roughly 60,000 of these migrants who found a way into Canada last year are claiming either political or, increasingly, religious persecution, according to an internal report by the Canadian Border Services Agency.

The report reveals that more than four out of five claimants who arrived from India, Iran and China had found an unauthorized way to get onto Canadian soil before they made their “inland” application for refugee status. A smaller number asked to be viewed as asylum seekers when they arrived at either a land border crossing or a Canadian airport. The report doesn’t clarify which proportion claim religious persecution.

A Vancouver immigration specialist, Richard Kurland, obtained the CBSA document through an access to information request. Normally, Kurland said, about four out of 10 irregular migrants are eventually granted refugee status in Canada, regardless of whether they maintain they have been victims of political or religious persecution.

The uptick in the number of applicants in Canada making claims of religious persecution appears to be a sign of the times.

The Pew Research Center has found that, since 2007, governments around the world have generally imposed greater restrictions on religious freedom.China and Iran, major source countries of migrants to Canada, are among the worst for imposing limits on the way citizens’ practice their faith.

Although China, an officially atheist state, says it permits religious freedom, it only allows five major religious groups to operate and they’re subject to control by the United Front and the Communist Party. House churches, underground Catholics, Falun Gung members and Uighur Muslims face harassment, imprisonment and even torture.

Iran, an Islamic republic in which 98 per cent of the population is Muslim (mostly Shia), formally recognizes Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, but not Baha’is, who are frequently imprisoned and persecuted as “misguided” Muslims. Religious minorities in Iran often report feeling threatened — and apostasy, specifically conversion from Islam, can be punishable by death.

In addition, Pew gives some its worst marks for “high levels of inter-religious tension” and “violence by organized groups” to the large migrant-source countries of India and Nigeria. It also lists Egypt and Pakistan, both Muslim-majority states.

While India is a secular state with a reputation for religious tolerance, since it is the birthplace of Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, in recent decades there have been anti-Sikh, anti-Hindu, anti-Muslim and anti-Christian riots. There are also reports of vigilantism in regions run by the Hindu nationalist BJP Party.

Nigeria’s population of 200 million is roughly divided between Muslims and Christians. In recent years gun battles have burst our between young, often-educated members of rival Christian and Muslim sects, leading to dozens of deaths and the burning of mosques and churches.

No doubt there is severe religious persecution occurring in many places. But not all maltreatment narratives are believed by Canada’s border officials, who reject the majority of irregular applicants.

Regardless of the reasons irregular migrants have for claiming refugee status, Kurland emphasizes, “The big question is: ‘How many of the failed applicants are actually removed from Canada?”

Canadian officials, like those in other immigrant-receiving nations, typically only get around to forcibly removing about 15 per cent of failed claimants, he said. The rest find ways to work with immigration officials to stretch out their stays in Canada for years.

“It’s not Amazon.com. You can’t just pack them up and return them,” Kurland said.

What is the common pattern for recent irregular migrants? The reality is that most who end up in Canada first go to the U.S., Kurland said, before they illicitly cross the land border into Quebec or Ontario.

Most don’t apply for refugee status as they cross a land border or touch down at a Canadian airport, he said, because they justifiably fear being immediately deported.

(Government-assisted refugees are in a different category, since they come to Canada recommended and approved by the United Nations.)

There are weaknesses in arguing you were persecuted for religious beliefs, Kurland said.

The main drawback is border and immigration officials will likely ask why you didn’t escape persecution by moving to another region of your own country. So-called “internal flight” is a common way to avoid harassment, especially in India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Despite the many inconsistencies involved in the way Canada and other immigrant-receiving countries deal with irregular migrants, Kurland believes we don’t have a terrible system. “Canadians don’t have to light their hair on fire.”

Since the worst applicants are returned to their country of origin, the many others who find ways to drag out their stays often end up contributing. Many marry, find sponsors and hold down jobs, eventually obtaining permanent resident status.

“They’re the ones who’ve beaten the Darwinian system.”

Source: Douglas Todd: ‘Religious persecution’ claimed by more asylum seekers in Canada

How Angela Merkel’s great migrant gamble paid off

Good long read:

Five years ago, as more and more refugees crossed into Europe, Germany’s chancellor proclaimed, ‘We’ll manage this.’ Critics said it was her great mistake – but she has been proved right

Mohammad Hallak found the key to unlock the mysteries of his new homeland when he realised you could switch the subtitles on your Netflix account to German. The 21-year-old Syrian from Aleppo jotted down words he didn’t know, increased his vocabulary and quickly became fluent. Last year, he passed his end of high school exams with a grade of 1.5, the top mark in his year group.

Five years to the month after arriving in Germany as an unaccompanied minor, Hallak is now in his third term studying computer science at the Westphalian University of Applied Sciences and harbours an aspiration to become an IT entrepreneur. “Germany was always my goal”, he says, in the mumbled sing-song of the Ruhr valley dialect. “I’ve always had a funny feeling that I belong here.”

Hallak, an exceptionally motivated student with high social aptitude, is not representative of all the 1.7 million people who applied for asylum in Germany between 2015 and 2019, making it the country with the fifth highest population of refugees in the world. Some of those with whom he trekked through Turkey and across the Mediterranean, he says, haven’t picked up more than a few words and “just chill”.

But Hallak is not a complete outlier either. More than 10,000 people who arrived in Germany as refugees since 2015 have mastered the language sufficiently to enrol at a German university. More than half of those who came are in work and pay taxes. Among refugee children and teenagers, more than 80% say they have a strong sense of belonging to their German schools and feel liked by their peers.

Success stories like Hallak’s partially redeem the optimism expressed by Angela Merkel in a sentence she spoke five years ago this week, at the peak of one of the most tumultuous years in recent European history – a sentence that nearly cost her her job and that she herself has partially retreated from.

Australia: ‘Depressed, anxious, bored, frustrated’: Christmas Island detainees struggle with isolation

Speaks for itself:

More than 30 people transferred to a remote immigration detention facility on Christmas Island have little access to internet and are struggling to contact their families.

The controversial North West Point detention centre on Christmas Island was reopened in August to relieve pressure on the onshore detention network, which had been nearing capacity.

At least 31 people have so far been transferred to the facility. The Australian Border Force declined to confirm the current detainee population on Tuesday.

One of the detainees is Les Reilly, who was transferred to Christmas Island from the Yongah Hill detention centre outside Perth in early August.

He said there were four computers with no video-calling software at the Christmas Island facility, but “you’re lucky if one works at a time”.

How the U.S. asylum system’s biases affect migrants’ chances

Good data-based analysis, showing how outcomes depend upon nationality, where seekers wait (what part of the country, whether in detention or not), and the judge assigned. Sean Rehaag continues his annual analysis with respect to outcome differences, showing wide variations between IRB Members, some explicable, some not:

For the world’s most vulnerable, protection in the United States has all but disappeared.

Wait times for asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border that already seemed indefinite now seem impossible. Families struggle to find food and shelter to outlast a pandemic order with no end date.

Those who cross north are sent back to Mexico in a matter of hours — or even put onto planes back to the countries from which they fled — without any opportunity to explain why they came.

In its response to COVID-19, the Trump administration achieved what it long sought, a shutdown of the U.S. asylum system. And with new regulations introduced this summer, the administration has moved to squeeze out any real chance at refuge in case the pandemic order is lifted.

But even before the current president began his campaign against asylum in the United States, people often struggled to win protection — no matter how strong their cases appeared to be.

In its 40-year history, the system has chronically fallen short of its promise of safety.

The Trump administration has used statistics about grant rates to justify closing off access to asylum, saying that those who lose their cases are illegitimate asylum seekers.

The facts show a different story: Thousands of people turned away based not on the merits of their cases, but on the capriciousness of a system so riven with inequity that many outcomes seem little more than arbitrary.

A San Diego Union-Tribune analysis of 10 years of court outcomes uncovered many symptoms of the system’s biases — shortcomings that date to the system’s creation.

Numerous factors can sway a case’s result, calling into question the administration’s assertion that a denial means an asylum seeker was lying.

Where asylum seekers wait for their day in court can mean the difference between protection and deportation.

That “where” depends on two decisions mostly out of asylum seekers’ control — whether they are held in detention and in which part of the country their hearings are scheduled.

It can ultimately influence several other important factors: their chances of finding legal representation, the judge assigned and what legal precedents the judge must follow.

Outcomes also vary by nationality, discrepancies that cannot be fully explained by the human rights violations that vary from country to country.

Mixed into all of this are the tendencies of each judge. Even among judges at the same court, grant and deportation rates vary widely.

Stories of different outcomes for similar cases, even for family members fleeing the same danger, are common.

Not a simple yes or no

When people ask for protection at the border, they enter a maze of bureaucracy that is the U.S. asylum system.

Herding them along are thousands of federal employees and contractors — asylum officers, detention center guards, deportation officers, immigration judges, court interpreters and government attorneys.

The process is an adversarial one, with a goal of determining whether the person is deportable from the United States, not whether that person merits protection.

U.S. asylum law, based on international agreements, protects people who flee persecution based on race, nationality, religion, political opinion or membership in a social group such as the LGBTQ community. Persecution must come directly from the government or from someone whom the government cannot or will not control.

In the decade of cases analyzed by the Union-Tribune, immigration judges granted asylum about 19% of the time.

These findings are based on roughly 146,300 immigration court cases with asylum applications filed that reached initial decisions from fiscal 2009 through 2018, excluding some asylum requests that didn’t originate at the border.

But asylum is not always a simple yes or no.

About a quarter of cases were closed without judges making decisions on the merits of the asylum applications. These closures generally meant that asylum seekers were allowed to stay, at least temporarily, in the United States.

Judges ordered deportations in nearly half of the total cases.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, the agency within the Department of Justice responsible for immigration courts, did not respond to a request for comment about the various findings of the Union-Tribune’s investigation.

Where they wait

Asylum seekers often have little control over where their cases end up — and it’s not necessarily tied to where they arrived at the border.

Though the Trump administration drastically changed where asylum seekers wait beginning in 2019, during the decade analyzed by the Union-Tribune the federal government had two main options.

If immigration officials decided to keep asylum seekers in custody, they were sent to detention centers around the country depending on bed space.

If released, they went wherever someone was willing to help them — a cousin in New York, a friend in Colorado, or an unknown sponsor linked to an advocacy group.

Where this fateful combination of circumstances takes an asylum seeker can make a big difference.

Based on the 10 years of case data analyzed by the Union-Tribune, a detained asylum seeker in Texas was 9.3 times more likely to be ordered deported than a non-detained asylum seeker in New York.

Nationwide, asylum seekers who remained in custody were ordered deported at a higher rate — in 74% of cases — compared with 44% for those who were never detained. Those who were initially detained and then released were ordered deported in 37% of cases.

Being detained doesn’t necessarily reflect anything about the legitimacy of an asylum seeker’s case or hint at a criminal past. Rather, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for immigration detention, has longstanding policies to keep many asylum seekers in custody regardless of their circumstances.

In or out of custody, the region where an asylum seeker ends up dictates what legal precedents will be used to decide their cases.

The example most widely cited by attorneys is the debate over the definition of what constitutes a “social group” for asylum purposes. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which governs Texas, along with Louisiana and Mississippi, has long used a narrow interpretation.

How courts define which categories count as social groups makes a difference for people whose persecution claims are based on their membership in a family, or as part of a broader group such as women fleeing domestic violence in countries that don’t protect them or as young men targeted for gang recruitment, among others.

Records show judges under the 5th Circuit ordered 3 in 4 asylum seekers deported from fiscal 2009 through 2018 — more than any other circuit in the country.

At the other end of the spectrum, judges in the 2nd Circuit, which guides case law in New York, Connecticut and Vermont, ordered fewer than 1 in 3 deported.

Judges in the 9th Circuit, which includes California, ordered just over 2 in 5 asylum seekers deported.

Location also dictates how many immigration attorneys, particularly those willing to work pro bono, are available. It is notoriously difficult for asylum seekers held in rural detention centers to find attorneys.

Asylum seekers who did not have representation were ordered deported in 60% of cases in the Union-Tribune analysis, compared with 42% for those with legal help.

Unlike cases in criminal courts, attorneys are not provided to those who cannot afford them — not even when the asylum seeker is a child.

Where they’re from

Geography plays a role in another way — the Union-Tribune’s analysis revealed disparities in outcomes based on nationality.

Part of that has to do with conditions in the country and whether they create reasons to flee that are clearly defined under asylum law.

But another part may have to do with biases and preconceptions in U.S. culture about that country.

This may help explain why asylum seekers from China are much more successful than those from Somalia.

Out of the 10 nationalities with the most asylum applications filed, those two countries of origin, both with long histories of human rights violations, are near the top of the list for grant rates. China ranks second, and Somalia ranks third.

And yet, the odds of asylum seekers from China being granted asylum were 2.2 times higher than those from Somalia, according to the Union-Tribune analysis.

This disparity might be explained by the outsized focus on China in U.S. media coverage and in federal government. China’s notorious treatment of Uighurs — an ethnic minority — and the country’s violent repression of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong are just the latest examples of human rights violations in the public eye.

In contrast, the decades-long rampant human rights abuses in Somalia that have created hundreds of thousands of refugees do not often make front-page headlines.

Add in racism and xenophobia toward people from certain regions of the world, as well as potential anti-Muslim bias, said Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at UC Hastings College of the Law, and the potential for discrepancy grows.

“The relationship between the United States and the country you’re from is a big factor,” said Jeremy Slack, a University of Texas at El Paso professor and author of the book “Deported to Death.” “Chinese people get asylum right now much, much easier than most other countries because we like to poke China as a human rights abuser.”

China’s affiliation with communism is another likely influencer, especially after Congress, in 1996, made it easier for people fleeing the country because of its one-child policy to claim asylum.

These kinds of systemic biases regarding nationality have been in place since the asylum system was created.

In the early days, immigration officials who processed asylum requests relied on U.S. State Department recommendations for each individual case, guidance that was heavily influenced by U.S. foreign policy — in particular, the country’s war on communism.

Under the Reagan administration, Central Americans fleeing powerful communist leaders were granted asylum far more often than those fleeing right-leaning strongman governments because of the United States’ involvement in proxy wars in their countries.

“There was a refusal to recognize that the governments we were supporting were engaging in human rights violations,” said Lucas Guttentag, who teaches immigration law at Stanford University and Yale University.

This meant that Nicaraguan migrants, who were fleeing the left-wing Sandinistas, were granted asylum at a rate of 26%, according to a report published in the book “Threatened Peoples, Threatened Borders: World Migration Policy” in 1995, compared with Salvadorans at 2.6% and Guatemalans at 1.8%, who were fleeing right-wing regimes.

Guttentag was one of the lead attorneys in a lawsuit calling for an end to systemic discrimination based on U.S. foreign policy.

A 1990 settlement in the case allowed Salvadorans and Guatemalans to have their claims reassessed, and Congress made other changes to try to account for the system’s shortcomings.

But as the Union-Tribune’s data analysis suggests, systemic bias based on country of origin has not disappeared.

“It’s cynical to say this, but it needs to be said, which is even though the refugee definition is supposed to be applied in a neutral way, the same way to all nationalities, that has never been the case in the U.S.,” Musalo said.

The difference a judge makes

Even for nationalities with higher grant rates, family members fleeing the same persecution can be split apart by different results.

There are glaring examples among many Chinese families that sought asylum based on the country’s former one-child policy. On multiple occasions, immigration judges granted asylum to the father who was seeking refuge from forced abortions, but not the mother.

“It is difficult to imagine how a rational system of law could tolerate such inconsistent results,” appellate judges in the 2nd Circuit wrote in changing the outcome for a mother in one such case.

The difference for many of these families came down to which judges decided the cases.

The Union-Tribune found large differences in decisions among judges at the same immigration court, even when taking into account that asylum seekers held in detention facilities tend to be ordered deported at higher rates.

Take, for instance, the three judges in San Diego who heard mostly detained cases over the course of the decade analyzed by the Union-Tribune.

Judge Robert McSeveny had the highest deportation rate and ordered about 81% of asylum seekers before him deported. He also had the lowest grant rate at 13%.

Judge Carmene “Zsa Zsa” DePaolo ranked somewhere in the middle, ordering 41% deported. She granted asylum in about 55% of cases.

Judge Anthony Atenaide ordered about 20% deported and granted about 76% asylum.

These gaps between judges — some well over 60 percentage points — exist in courts across the United States.

“There shouldn’t be that much difference,” said Paul Schmidt, a former immigration judge. “It’s hard to make sense out of the system because there are so many variables superimposed on each other.”

Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Assn. of Immigration Judges, said that different rates among judges should be expected.

There might be details in cases of two people fleeing the same harm in the same country that lead to different outcomes depending on how good their attorneys are — if they have them — as well as how much the government attorneys push back and what the judges’ own previous courtroom experiences are, she said.

Even in cases where details are exactly the same, Tabaddor said, judges can have different opinions.

“It’s not unusual for people looking at the same set of facts and same set of rules to have differing opinions about how much weight to give evidence and what the conclusion should be. That’s in every court,” Tabaddor said, pointing to differences among U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Judges’ grant rates are also influenced by their work history, according to a study from 2007 titled “Refugee Roulette” by researchers from Temple University and Georgetown University Law Center.

The Union-Tribune analysis corroborated this finding. Judges who previously worked as ICE attorneys — generally arguing in immigration court against asylum seekers and other immigrants requesting to stay in the U.S. — were about 1.4 times more likely to order asylum seekers deported during the decade analyzed.

A little more than half of immigration judges who heard cases analyzed by the Union-Tribune previously worked for ICE.

When they make the career switch, they go from one federal agency to another.

That’s because, like ICE employees, immigration judges work for the executive branch rather than the judicial branch.

The judges’ boss is the attorney general, the nation’s highest-ranking prosecutor in the Department of Justice.

Tabaddor and other leaders of the judges’ union have long argued that immigration courts should be part of the judicial branch instead — a solution that could help reduce the mistrust that many critics have toward the system.

“Why don’t you trust the judge?” Tabaddor said, addressing those critics. “It’s because you know the court is run by a law enforcement agency. You feel like the court is stacked. You feel like there’s something inherently wrong. And on those grounds I say, ‘You’re absolutely right.’”

A family separated

For one asylum seeker from Central Asia, this fateful lottery of circumstances could mean that he is deported while his family stays in the United States.

The Russian-speaking man, Mr. U, declined to fully identify himself, as well as the country that he fled, to protect family members he left behind. But he allowed the Union-Tribune to review his case files.

His experience navigating the system presents a striking example of how an asylum seeker’s physical location can impact other factors in a case — and ultimately the outcome.

Mr. U first entered the asylum system in San Diego.

He was separated from his 13-year-old son, as well as his adult stepson and his stepson’s wife, shortly after the family arrived at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in 2017.

The physical separation meant their immigration court cases were split, as well.

Though their asylum claims were all tied to the stepson’s political activities, their separation would ultimately result in dramatically different asylum outcomes.

Mr. U would spend the remainder of his case locked up at Otay Mesa Detention Center while his son was taken to a facility for unaccompanied migrant children in Chicago.

His adult stepson and the stepson’s wife ended up at a detention facility in Adelanto, a few hours north. Mr. U did not know where they were.

The day before his trial, Mr. U got some of the best news he’d received since his arrival. He finally found a pro bono lawyer willing to take his case.

“I was very happy,” Mr. U told the Union-Tribune through a translator. “I had a new hope to see my son sooner.”

On the day of his trial, he handed the judge a written statement explaining that the attorney, who then worked at Catholic Charities, was unable to be in court that day because another client had a hearing.

The statement added that Mr. U’s adult stepson was also in immigration custody and that their cases were related. Mr. U hoped that his stepson could be a witness in his case.

Mr. U asked to postpone his trial for about a month and a half.

“I do not wish to prolong my case any longer than necessary,” Mr. U said in his statement. “My young child has been taken from me and is in the custody of the government far away. He is alone and without me, and I need to get back to him.”

Immigration Judge Scott Simpson insisted that Mr. U proceed with his trial that day without the attorney and without his stepson as a witness.

“You’ve been detained for over eight months,” Simpson told Mr. U, according to court records. “That’s ample time to find an attorney. So, there’s no good cause to continue any longer.”

On his own, Mr. U, who has a high school education, struggled to explain his story clearly to the judge.

The Russian interpreter also struggled to understand him, frequently interrupting the dialogue between Mr. U and Simpson to get clarifications.

Both Simpson and ICE attorney Guy Grande called out details from his testimony that were slightly different from what a fellow detainee had translated into English for Mr. U’s asylum application.

For instance, Mr. U testified that his wife had loaned money to someone, but his application said, “I lent” the money.

He also testified in court about an incident in which police threatened him that he did not mention in his application. His application did mention other instances of threats.

In the end, Simpson did not find him credible. He ordered Mr. U deported.

Mr. U felt fear flood his body, terrified what might wait for him in his country.

“It was a big shock and a hit for me. I immediately felt bad,” Mr. U said. “My blood pressure spiked, and my heart was hurting because I cannot return home.”

Simpson had the highest deportation rate of judges at Otay Mesa Detention Center, according to the Union-Tribune analysis.

The judge, who previously worked as an ICE attorney, ordered asylum seekers deported in more than 80% of the cases he heard. He granted relief in about 15%.

About a month after Simpson decided Mr. U’s case, the stepson and the stepson’s wife were granted asylum by a different judge. They did not have a lawyer either.

That judge, Ian Simons, had the highest grant rate and one of the lowest deportation rates among judges who heard cases at Adelanto at the time. He granted asylum in more than 30% of cases and ordered asylum seekers deported in over 60%.

Holding out for appeal

Appeals are an increasingly important part of the path toward protection, a reality often reflected in high reversal rates among some judges.

The Board of Immigration Appeals, or BIA, part of the same agency in the Department of Justice that employs immigration judges, is the first step in the process.

In the cases analyzed by the Union-Tribune, the BIA told more than 1 in 5 judges nationwide that their decisions were wrong at least 20% of the time.

Judges with fewer than 25 appealed cases were not included in the analysis.

A reversal rate of 20% is a common measure when looking for red flags with judges’ decisions, according to University of San Diego law professor Shaun Martin.

Four judges had reversal rates of 40% or higher.

“A consistently high reversal rate like that would cause you to look very closely to see if the judge was doing something systemically wrong,” Martin said.

Cases appealed beyond the BIA go to the federal circuit courts of appeal, leaving the immigration court system and entering the traditional legal process in the judicial branch. Data analyzed by the Union-Tribune did not include those court decisions.

Attorneys worry that more and more asylum seekers will have to go to the circuit courts to be granted relief. Under Trump, most recent appointees to the BIA are former immigration judges who had some of the highest asylum denial rates in the nation.

Ten members of the current 23-person board are former immigration judges appointed to their positions during the Trump administration.

All but one had deportation rates of more than 70% in at least one of the courts where they heard cases during the decade analyzed by the Union-Tribune. Eight of them had asylum grant rates below 10%, including two judges who didn’t award a single grant of asylum while at a particular court.

The board includes two other Trump appointees who worked in the Office of Immigration Litigation in the Department of Justice, which argues against asylum seekers who have appealed their cases to federal circuit courts, and one Trump appointee who worked for ICE before the administration hired her as an assistant chief immigration judge and ultimately a board member.

Six board members were appointed under the Obama administration, and four were appointed by earlier administrations.

So much is riding on appeals that attorney Dree Collopy, who wrote a 1,680-page legal guide on asylum, encourages lawyers to make sure that the record created in immigration court is incredibly thorough.

“We honestly can’t depend on immigration courts or the Board of Immigration Appeals to give any kind of due process or meaningful review of asylum cases anymore,” Collopy said.

But navigating the appeals process can be daunting and often takes years. Those who are already detained usually stay in custody for the duration. Many give up before they get that far.

Mr. U is better positioned than many.

Because of the outcry over family separation at the border and a class-action lawsuit in San Diego, he was released from detention and reunited with his family in Chicago. And he has a pair of attorneys — Bardis Vakili with the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties and Luis Gonzalez, the attorney who’d originally agreed to take his case — working on his appeal.

They argued that Simpson denied Mr. U his right to an attorney, as well as his right to present evidence.

The BIA sided with Simpson.

Now Mr. U is waiting to find out if the 9th Circuit will change the outcome in his case.

He’s not allowed to work while he waits, so he has to depend on his stepson, who already has a green card.

He hopes to learn English and one day find a profession that will allow him to be useful to the country he wants to call home.

And he worries about the family members left behind.

Dwindling odds

Though asylum has become an increasingly polarized topic, building enough political will to make the system more equitable has historically been difficult.

“Asylum was always a political football,” said Ruth Wasem, who specialized in immigration policy at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service before becoming a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

The asylum system is part of a worldwide effort that grew out of failures to protect Jewish migrants during the Holocaust. It took the United States decades to fully codify its commitment to help victims of future atrocities.

Larry Gollub, a retired asylum officer, said that low grant rates are not proof that asylum seekers are filing frivolous or fraudulent claims.

“It’s just proof that they can’t meet the high standard for asylum,” Gollub said.

And they are struggling with the obstacles built into the system that make it less likely for them to win.

Methodology

Immigration court records are collected, tracked and released monthly by the Executive Office for Immigration Review within the Department of Justice. The San Diego Union-Tribune used the June 2019 release in its analysis.

Since case information is entered manually, various columns throughout the more than 50 million rows of data in the various tables contained slight inconsistencies, and the Union-Tribune cleaned these entries when necessary.

The analysis includes any cases with asylum applications that were completed from fiscal 2009 through fiscal 2018. Cases flagged as legal permanent residents, rider cases, cases originating with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and cases that did not include either a charge of being present without admission or arriving without a valid entry document were excluded from the analysis. Cases with incomplete information on these distinctions remained in the analysis.

Judges who heard less than 50 cases in a particular location and nationalities with less than 100 cases during the 10-year period were excluded to prevent skewed results.

Judge work histories were gathered by the Union-Tribune based on summaries released by EOIR when the judge was hired. When necessary, histories were confirmed or clarified using news clippings, court records, law firm biographies, law school newsletters, and in some cases, contacting individuals directly.

With guidance from statisticians, the Union-Tribune performed various statistical tests, including logistic and multivariate regressions, to determine the significance of findings.

Case data and analyses steps can be found on the Union-Tribune’s GitHub page.

With few exceptions, most of the changes to the system since it was created have made the process more difficult for asylum seekers, particularly for those who come to the border.

Among recent changes is the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program, which forces many asylum seekers to wait for their cases across the border.

Most recently, the administration published new rules that would narrow longstanding definitions in parts of asylum law and fundamentally shrink what options asylum seekers have if they manage to get their cases into immigration court. A second set of proposed rules would allow the government to bar people from asylum because of the pandemic.

The changes would further erode access to a system that is meant to function as part of an international screening process, one that determines which migrants should be recognized as refugees.

“I see our current moment as one of real crisis,” said Denise Gilman, co-director of the immigration clinic at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. “Even as limited and paltry as the system was, we’re experiencing a moment of doubt as to whether it will even exist in any meaningful way.”

The Trump administration has argued that because the majority do not win their cases, many people applying for asylum do not have valid reasons to ask for help. Recent outcomes appear even lower than in previous years, partly because the administration changed the way outcome statistics are calculated in official reports.

Source: How the U.S. asylum system’s biases affect migrants’ chances

A Radical German Program Promised a Fresh Start to Yazidi Survivors of ISIS Captivity. But Some Women Are Still Longing for Help

Interesting and somewhat dispiriting, given the mixed results of the program, long read:

When Hanan escaped from Islamic State captivity, there wasn’t much to come back to.

She and her five children had survived a year in a living nightmare. After her husband finally managed to arrange their rescue in the summer of 2015, they joined him in a dusty camp in Iraq where he lived in a tent. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) still controlled the territory they called home, and they were unsure if they could ever go back. And Hanan was unsure if she could ever escape the darkness she felt inside.

So when, in the fall of 2015, Germany offered her the promise of safety and a chance to heal from her trauma, it wasn’t a difficult decision. Accepting a place in a groundbreaking program for women and children survivors of ISIS captivity did mean leaving her husband behind in the camp, but she was told he could join her after two years. So she and her children boarded the first flight of their lives, out of Iraq and away from their tight-knit community, in search of safety and treatment for what still haunted them.

Hanan, now 34, was one of 1,100 women and children brought to Germany in an unprecedented effort to aid those most affected by ISIS’s systematic campaign to kill and enslave the ancient Yazidi religious minority. (TIME is identifying Hanan by her first name only for her safety.) Launched by the German state of Baden Württemberg in October 2014, the program aimed to help survivors of captivity receive much-needed mental-health treatment and support. In Iraq, there had been a rash of suicides among the heavily-traumatized survivors, who had minimal access to mental-health care and faced an uncertain future. In Germany, far from the site of their suffering, state officials hoped the women and children could find healing and a fresh start.

But for Hanan, those promises remain unfulfilled. German officials never granted visas to any of the women’s husbands, leaving families, including Hanan’s, indefinitely torn apart. Like most of the women, she’s not undergoing promised trauma therapy. She often thinks about killing herself. The only thing stopping her, she says, is her children.

Not all the women are desperate. Some are thriving in Germany, and others have become global advocates for their community, like 2018 Nobel Prize winner Nadia Murad. She is the most prominent face of a program that was so ambitious and well-intentioned it inspired other countries, like Canada and France, to follow suit. But Hanan’s experience illustrates how parts of the program failed to live up to their full potential, and shows how difficult it is for refugees to gain access to mental health services, even in a program designed for just that. Michael Blume, the state official who led the program, sees it as a “great success” overall. But he is troubled by the state’s failure to bring the women’s husbands to Germany. “A great humanitarian program should not be sabotaged by bureaucracy,” he says. “But that’s what is taking place.”

Before she left Iraq, Hanan said she was given a piece of paper with information about what awaited her in Germany. “I wish I could find that paper now,” she says, “because the promises they gave us, they didn’t keep all of them.”

By the time ISIS swept across Sinjar, the area in northwest Iraq that is home to most of the world’s Yazidis, Hanan had already endured more than her share of hardship. Her parents were murdered in front of her when she was six. She and her two siblings went to live with their grandfather and his wife, where they were beaten, starved, and forced to work instead of going to school. Her baby sister died soon after.

In her early twenties, she escaped the torturous conditions at home by marrying Hadi. It was the first good fortune of her life, she says; they loved each other. Over the course of about seven years, they had four daughters and then a son, who was just a few months old in August 2014, when ISIS captured Sinjar and unleashed its systematic campaign to wipe out the Yazidis.

In conquered Yazidi towns, fighters executed the men and elderly women. Boys were sent off for indoctrination and forced military training. Women and girls weresold into slavery, traded among fighters like property and repeatedly raped. Hanan and her children were among more than 6,000 people kidnapped. Hadi, who was working as a laborer in a city beyond the reach of ISIS when their village was captured, was frantic when he learned his family was gone.

Within days, President Barack Obama launched U.S. airstrikes on ISIS militants, and U.S. forces delivered food and water to besieged Yazidis trapped on Sinjar mountain. In the following months, as Yazidi women and children started emerging from captivity—some escaped, while others were rescued by a secret network of activists—with tales of horror, Yazidis pleaded for more international action. Former captives were severely traumatized. Mental-health care in Iraq was limited. And because the Yazidi faith doesn’t accept converts or marriage outside the religion, the women raped and forcibly converted to Islam by ISIS members feared they were no longer welcome in the community.

In Germany, home to the largest Yazidi population outside of Iraq, officials in Baden Württemberg decided to act. In October 2014, state premier Winfried Kretschmann decided to issue 1,000 humanitarian visas and earmark €95 million ($107 million) for what became known as the Special Quota Project for Especially Vulnerable Women and Children from Northern Iraq. The state recruited 21 cities and towns across the southwestern state to host the refugees, agreeing to pay municipalities €42,000 ($50,000) per person for housing and other costs, while the state would cover the cost of their healthcare. Two other states agreed to take an additional 100 people.

Program officials interviewed survivors of ISIS captivity in Iraq, selecting those with medical or psychological disorders as a result of their captivity who could benefit from treatment in Germany. The project was not restricted to Yazidis, and a small number of Christians and Muslims also were chosen. That was when the officials told each woman that after two years, immediate family members like husbands could apply for a visa under German rules for family unification.

The program was groundbreaking. No German state had ever administered its own humanitarian admission program. And instead of waiting for asylum-seekers to make dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean, officials were seeking out the most vulnerable and bringing them to safety. The first plane arrived in March 2015. The last of the flights—including the one carrying Hanan—landed in January 2016.

Hanan, along with 111 others, was sent to a pleasant hilltop town of about 25,000 people at the edge of the Black Forest. (Officials asked that the town not be named to protect the survivors, whom they fear could be targeted by ISIS members.) For the first three years, she lived with about half of the group in an old hospital in the town center that had been converted into a communal residence.

Hanan and her five children occupied two rooms off a central corridor—one they used for sleeping, and the other, with a sink along one wall and a worn leather sofa along another, as a living room. They shared a bathroom and a kitchen with a large family next door.

“The neighbors are worse than Daesh,” she joked with a grimace, using a pejorative name for ISIS. It was May 2017, more than a year after her arrival. She sat on the floor to breastfeed her youngest child, Saber. At three, he was small for his age, but Hanan was small too. Her long dark hair was pulled back, and she wore a long blue skirt and a dark hoodie. Her next youngest, Sheelan, climbed into a wardrobe in the corner, peeking out from underneath thick black bangs. Haneya, her oldest at 10, and Hanadi and Berivan, eight and seven, were fighting with the neighbor’s children, their shrieks competing with the Kurdish music videos blaring from the television. Hanan yelled at them to stop.

Caring for her five children alone was wearing Hanan out. She was often sick, but found it difficult to go to the doctor because she didn’t have help with childcare. She complained about painful and unresolved gynecological issues from being repeatedly raped. She wanted to go back to the doctor, but she relied on social workers to make appointments for her and said they were blowing off her requests. And most days, she suffered debilitating headaches.

A trauma therapist came once a week to the shelter for a group session with the women, but Hanan usually wasn’t able to attend because of the children. And she didn’t want to talk about her experiences in front of the other women. When she slept, nightmares came. One night she dreamed she was back in captivity and an ISIS fighter was trying to take her oldest daughter, Haneya. Hanan woke herself and the children up with her screams. The older girls talked about their time in captivity often and sometimes had nightmares too. “They’re not like normal kids,” Hanan said. “When it’s nighttime, they ask me, ‘Mama, do you think Daesh is going to come to get us?’”

A year earlier, around six months after her arrival, that nightmare had become reality. She was out shopping for food when she spotted him. He had trimmed his hair and beard, and exchanged his tunic for a blue T-shirt. But it was him—the ISIS member who had been her captor for a month.

She stared, frozen in place. He saw her, too: His eyes widened in recognition and surprise. Panic shot through her and then her feet were moving, carrying her out of the store and around the corner. By the time she went to the police, he was gone. She said they treated her as if she had mistaken a random refugee for her former tormenter. But she knew what she saw. “How could I forget the face of the man who raped me?”

Germany was supposed to be a sanctuary. Now, inside the old hospital walls was the only place Hanan felt safe. She rarely ventured out, remembering threats from her captors that they would find her if she ran away.

She worried the man she’d spotted might come back to harm them. The only identifying information she could give police was his nom de guerre. And though police were stationed outside the shelter for some time after she made the report, Markus Burger, head of the department for refugees and resettlement in the town’s social office, said his office eventually received a report stating there was no direct threat. The police referred questions about the incident to the federal public prosecutor, and a spokesman for the prosecutor said the office was aware of the incident but could not comment further. At least one other woman in the programsaw her own captor in Germany, and she later returned to Iraq because she no longer felt safe.

Hanan couldn’t understand why the police couldn’t find the man. She began to see threats anywhere she went. Muslim people speaking Arabic terrified her. Once at a park with her children, a bearded man on a bench called out to her. Though she had never seen him before, she was afraid. She gathered the children and rushed back to the shelter.

Yazidis are no strangers to trauma. The religious minority has endured centuries of persecution and attacks, from the Ottoman empire to Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda. Jan Kizilhan, an expert in psychotraumatology and transcultural psychotherapy who was the program’s chief psychologist, was born to a Yazidi family in Turkey and immigrated to Germany as a child. Survivors of ISIS captivity are dealing not only with their own individual trauma from the violence and family separation they endured, he said, but also the historical trauma borne by their people, and the collective trauma from ISIS’s attempted genocide.

But after the women arrived in Germany as part of the program, trauma therapy wasn’t a top priority. At first, most of the refugees were focused on adjusting to life in Germany, said Kizilhan. They were also following the situation back home, where a multinational coalition was wrestling territory away from ISIS. With every victory, Yazidi families waited for news of their missing relatives, hoping they would not be among the bodies discovered in mass graves. Most had family members in camps, and others still in captivity. They weren’t ready to work through past trauma in therapy, because it was still part of their present.

There was another, more basic, obstacle to treatment: Most of the women were unfamiliar with the concept of psychotherapy. “To even help them understand why they would need this or how it would help, it takes time,” said Kizilhan. In many Middle Eastern cultures, including the Yazidi community, psychological trauma is often expressed somatically, he explained — many women complained of a burning liver, headaches, or stomachaches when the root was a psychological, rather than physiological, problem.

In 2017 and 2018, Tübingen University Hospital and the University of Freiburg, which were also involved in psychotherapeutic care for program participants, carried out surveys of 116 of the women in the program. Ninety-three percent of those surveyed fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder during the first survey, and the number remained the same a year later. That makes the fact that just 40% of the women have received trauma therapy, years after their arrival, striking.

But Kizilhan insists the figure does not represent a failure. Some women simply don’t want therapy, he says, and it can’t be forced. He expects that an additional third of the women will be ready for therapy in the coming years. “And then we will be there to help them,” he says. “Each person is individual, different, and needs different timing.” The state decided to cover the cost of the womens’ healthcare indefinitely—initial plans were to foot the bill for three years—after it spent only €60 million ($71 million) of the allocated €95 million ($113 million) on the program.

Kizilhan acknowledges the challenges, including finding enough therapists and translators to work with the women. Kizilhan and Blume, who led the Special Quota project, say the program was an emergency intervention, and that a more long-term solution is building capacity for mental health care in Iraq. The state of Baden Württemberg has put resources toward that, too—donating €1.3 million ($1.5 million) to help establish the first master’s program for psychotherapy in Iraq, started by Kizilhan at the University of Duhok in 2017.

Kizilhan and Blume say the program in Germany has been successful despite the challenges. In the Tübingen University study, 91% of the women surveyed said they were satisfied to be in Germany, and 85% said they were satisfied with the program. When asked if they were satisfied with the psychosocial care, the number who said yes dropped to 72%. Hanan was among those who found it lacking.

Her struggle to access medical care and therapy were two of the ways she felt let down by the program. For her first three years in Germany, Hanan received minimal therapy, even though she wanted it. She rarely attended the group sessions, both because she found them unhelpful and because of the ongoing childcare issues. She said she was not offered individual sessions. Burger said when social workers saw some women were unhappy with group sessions, they arranged for individual therapy, and Hanan began talking with a therapist every few weeks. She said it helped a little, but she felt the same after each session.

***

On a Wednesday in July 2018, Hanan left German class early to shop for food. Before leaving home, she pulled on a fitted black blazer over her beige shirt and leggings. The clothes were new; she had recently cast aside the long, dark skirts and sweaters that she had worn ever since her escape for a more modern wardrobe. Friends had urged her to make the switch, teasing her that she dressed like she was still living under ISIS. Hanan walked to the store, passing traditional timber-frame buildings and window boxes overflowing with geraniums and petunias. She spotted a friend outside the supermarket and stopped to chat before buying chicken legs and vegetables. Managing the family’s budget alone—something she had never done in Iraq—was challenging. Sometimes she didn’t have enough money at the end of the month.

Two years on from encountering her former captor, the town was beginning to feel less threatening, though Hanan still didn’t like going out at night. She attended German language class four mornings a week. She’d never learned how to read or write as a child, so learning German was doubly hard, but she was making slow progress. She was also making a few German friends, and she’d found a way to decipher their text messages even though she couldn’t read. When she received a message, she’d paste it into the Google Translate app and press the audio button. A robotic voice would read it aloud and she’d reply via voice note.

Back at home, she put a pot of rice on the stove and began browning the chicken, preoccupied by the logistics of her upcoming trip to Iraq to visit her husband, Hadi. She’d learned through her social worker that her stipend would be paused while she was away, and Hanan wasn’t sure how she would make it through the month without the money.

It would be the second time she had to travel to see Hadi. (The women were admitted as humanitarian refugees, rather than asylum seekers, which spared them the process of applying for asylum and meant they were allowed to return to visit family in Iraq, unlike asylum holders.) Saber, now four, had spent most of his life separated from his father, and didn’t recognize him. The girls no longer even missed him. He was becoming a faraway memory.

Two and a half years had now gone by since she left Iraq, well past the two years after which Hadi had been promised he could apply for a visa. Hanan’s social worker helped her file papers related to his visa application. But whenever Hanan asked what was happening, she was given the same answer: Not yet.

What she didn’t know was that Germany’s position toward refugees had shifted. The welcoming stance the country adopted when more than a million people poured into the country seeking asylum in 2015 had hardened amid a backlashfueled by far-right anti-immigration parties. When he interviewed the women in 2015, and told them their husbands could apply for a visa after two years, Kizilhan was in line with the rules at the time. But now laws governing refugees and family unification visas were tightened. German courts even began ruling against Yazidiswho requested asylum, saying it was safe for them to go back to Iraq.

To date, no husbands of women in the Special Quota Project have received visas. It’s hard to know how many are waiting: Kizilhan says he has identified 18. According to the study, 28 percent of the women surveyed had husbands in Iraq.

A spokesman for the Baden Württemberg Ministry of Interior, Digitalization and Migration said that “special rules” apply to family reunifications for those granted humanitarian admission, and may only be allowed “for reasons of human rights, on humanitarian grounds or to protect political interests.” The special rules “must be considered on a case by case basis,” he said, and added the federal authorities are responsible for issuing visas, not the state.

Kizilhan said the ministry could intervene to make sure the family members are issued visas. But the political will behind the creation of the Special Quota Project has evaporated. In January, Kizilhan said he had recently met with state interior ministry officials to ask that they find a way to bring the husbands to Germany, but that they told him the change in federal law made it difficult to do so. “This is ridiculous,” Kizilhan says. “If you can take 1,100 with the special quota, you can take 18 people in one day.”

On trips back to Iraq, Kizilhan said he’s been confronted by husbands demanding answers, and is distressed that the state has not followed through. He notes that bringing the women’s immediate family to Germany would improve their psychological health—the goal of the program—by helping to reduce post-traumatic stress symptoms and easing their integration into society. Hanan often spoke of waiting for Hadi’s arrival to move into an apartment on her own. She was fearful of handling all the responsibilities of living in a new country without him. And she desperately needed help caring for the children, help she thought would be provided in the program. They’d spent a year separated from Hadi in captivity. Now, they were once again separated, once again waiting for their family to be reunited.

After Hanan’s visit to Iraq, months went by with no news about Hadi’s visa. They both began to despair that it would ever materialize, their frustration compounded by a dearth of information about the delay.

In the spring of 2019, after waiting three years, Hadi decided he could wait no longer. He borrowed money and set out for Germany along irregular migration routes. It took him eight months—he was detained in Greece on the way—but eventually he made it to Hanan. Their reunion, though, was far from perfect. After his arrival in Germany, the once-happy couple separated. Hanan would not discuss the details of their estrangement except to say that it took root because of their physical separation and left her distraught. He is now in a relationship with another woman and Hanan said he is not in touch with his children. His future in Germany is uncertain, too—it is unclear whether he will be permitted to stay.

Last summer Hanan moved into a light-filled two-bedroom furnished flat rented for her by the municipality in a quiet residential neighborhood. It’s decorated brightly in orange—a peach wall, tangerine dining chairs, an ochre shag carpet, and a sofa the color of carrots. While there’s a bunk bed in the kids’ room, they usually end up sleeping in Hanan’s king-size bed every night, a tangle of arms and legs. She was finally able to see a doctor to resolve her lingering gynecological health problem, although the daily headaches are still there. She’s no longer afraid of going out at night.

On a Sunday morning in January, she awoke late, groggy from hosting friends the night before. Saber, now six, and Sheelan, seven, plopped on the sofa to watch Tom and Jerry on the television as Hanan made bread in the kitchen. Squeezing small lumps off the dough, she quickly slapped each one from hand to hand, stretching it into a thin disc. In Iraq, she would have baked the loaves in an outdoor clay oven. Here, she used a small metal box oven, heated with an electric coil, placed on the countertop. She placed each loaf on top to let it brown, then baked it inside the oven before stacking the finished loaves on the windowsill.

When she was done, the children gathered at the table, scooping up fried eggs, yogurt, tahini, and cheese with the fresh bread. They chattered together in German; they rarely spoke Kurdish with one another anymore. Saber, impish and sensitive, speaks German with a near flawless accent. After breakfast, the three older girls clear the table, wash the dishes, and sweep the floor unbidden. Hanadi, now 11, and Berivan, now 10, both with round cheeks like their mother, are learning how to swim at school. Haneya, now 13, reads and translates the mail and types messages in German for her mother.

“Sometimes I look at my kids and think ‘OK, I’m all right.’ But I just feel bad,” Hanan said, lowering herself onto the sofa. “It’s a bad feeling inside of me, I don’t know how to explain it. Sometimes I want to hit myself, because of this bad feeling inside, and I don’t know how to deal with it. Many times I thought about killing myself, but then I remember my kids, that they need me.”

The situation with Hadi has her so upset she doesn’t think about ISIS anymore, Hanan said, adding that she doesn’t know what to do or where to turn. She’s spent hours crying with a Yazidi friend, another survivor, who lives nearby. That’s the closest she gets to therapy now.

After Hanan moved into the apartment, her therapy sessions ended. A few months later, social workers took her to an appointment at a new therapist’s office, but she hadn’t gone back. She said the appointment time of 7 p.m. was impossible as there was no one to watch the children at home. But she knows she needs help. “It’s too much for me,” she said. “I can’t hold all these problems alone.”

Burger, of the town’s department for refugees and resettlement, said that as more of the women moved into private apartments last year—all but 10 now live on their own—it became harder to arrange therapy sessions. Some therapists have waiting lists, and there is always the problem of timing, he said. “It’s difficult finding a time when the trauma therapist and the translator both are available, and also when someone can take care for the children, and when the German classes aren’t at the same time. But we are working on it.” He could not give a number for how many of the women in the town were undergoing therapy, saying it was constantly changing, but said therapy was available to all who wanted it. “We can only offer it,” he said. “In the end it is the decision of the women if they want to take part in the programs, and we don’t want to and can’t force anyone to take part.”

Hanan knows it was right to come to Germany. She’s better off than she would be in Iraq, where despite the territorial defeat of ISIS, most Yazidis are still displaced, and their future is uncertain. She feels safe now in Germany, and she can see bright futures for her children here.

But she can’t muster any of that hope for herself, not after losing Hadi. The darkness she had hoped to escape never went away. “Maybe I’m going to go crazy, or I’m going to kill myself. Maybe I won’t find a solution for myself except to die,” she said. “Now I’m 34, and I didn’t see any hope in my entire life. And for the future also, I don’t have any hope. Only God knows.”

Source: A Radical German Program Promised a Fresh Start to Yazidi Survivors of ISIS Captivity. But Some Women Are Still Longing for Help

Liberals appealing ruling striking down Canada-U.S. asylum agreement

Not surprising given that the ruling reflected in part the particular circumstances of asylum seekers that were at the heart of the case:

The Liberal government is appealing last month’s Federal Court decision that ruled the Safe Third Country Agreement — Canada’s asylum agreement with the United States — infringes upon the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In a decision released July 22, Justice Ann Marie McDonald said the agreement — which stops people from entering either Canada or the U.S. at official Canada-U.S. border crossings and asking for asylum — violates the section of the Charter guaranteeing “the right to life, liberty and security of the person.”

McDonald suspended her invalid ruling for six months to allow Parliament to respond.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in a statement Friday the government filed an appeal today because they believe there are factual and legal errors in some of the court’s key findings.

“There are important legal principles to be determined in this case, and it is the responsibility of the government of Canada to appeal to ensure clarity on the legal framework governing asylum law,” reads the statement.

“Canada has a long and proud tradition of providing protection to those who need it most by offering refuge to the world’s most vulnerable people, and the government of Canada remains firmly committed to upholding a compassionate, fair and orderly refugee protection system. The STCA remains a comprehensive vehicle to help accomplish that, based on the principle that people should claim asylum in the first safe country in which they arrive.”

The 16-year-old agreement, which remains in effect, recognizes both countries as “safe” countries for migrants and states that refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first country they arrive in — meaning Canadian border officials would send back to the U.S. any would-be refugee claimants arriving at an official border crossing into Canada.

The Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, the Canadian Council of Churches and a number of individual litigants brought the original case forward and argued that by returning ineligible refugee claimants to the U.S., Canada exposes them to risks — including detention and eventual deportation to countries where they could face harm.

Conservative MP and immigration critic Peter Kent immediately issued a statement supporting the appeal.

“While we are pleased the government has decided to appeal this ruling, Canadians’ confidence in the immigration system has been rocked by years of Justin Trudeau’s failure to address these concerns, and his failure to restore integrity and compassion to the immigration process,” he said in a statement.But the NDP’s critic Jenny Kwan called the move the a “heartless and shameful act.”

“By appealing this ruling, the federal Liberals are saying they’d rather let people seeking the safety of asylum here in Canada suffer under Donald Trump’s rules, than stand up for human rights and Canadian values,” she wrote in a statement Friday afternoon.

“It’s un-Canadian.”

Source: Liberals appealing ruling striking down Canada-U.S. asylum agreement

From Jordan to Morden: Iraqi family thrilled to be in Manitoba under new program to resettle skilled refugees

Nice story highlighting a family that benefited from the Economic Mobility Pathways Project and Talent Beyond Boundaries:

Mokhles Abdulghani had never heard of Morden, a small community in southern Manitoba, before last spring when he was interviewed by a city official there in search of skilled immigrants.

But the Iraqi refugee quickly fell in love with Morden’s natural beauty and the changing seasons after watching YouTube videos about the city that would soon become his new home.

After spending five years in limbo as refugees in Jordan, Abdulghani, his wife and three children could hardly contain their excitement when they arrived in Morden this weekend.

“We already feel like home in Morden,” the mechanical engineer said Sunday. Still in quarantine, the family could only glimpse their adopted community through the living-room window.

“We can’t wait to start our new life in this country,” said Abdulghani, whose family is the first admitted to Canada under a new program launched by the federal government to resettle skilled refugees to fill the country’s labour gaps.

The Economic Mobility Pathways Project aims to bring 500 skilled workers and their families to Canada over two years, the world’s largest pilot project of its kind. Australia has a similar program and has committed to admitting 100 skilled refugees as permanent residents.

The project is one of the pledges Canada made at the 2019 U.N. Global Refugee Forum to create more pathways for refugees to use their skills as a route out of displacement.

Through the initiative, candidates with skills and knowledge can apply for permanent residence as economic migrants, instead of as resettled refugees sponsored by the federal government and private community groups — a process that can take years.

“Many refugees have immense talent and should have the opportunity, just like other skilled people, to use economic visas to relocate to a secure future. Canada’s work to open these pathways offers a safe and legal new solution for refugees,” said Dana Wagner of Talent Beyond Boundaries, a non-governmental organization that has built a refugee talent pool and is matching candidates with employers from around the world.

“There’s an extraordinary need for new solutions for refugees. Displacement is rising and conditions facing refugees during the pandemic are worsening. Meanwhile, companies in essential sectors like health care and manufacturing are still in critical need of skills. Mokhles and many more like him can be part of Canada’s recovery story.”

In April 2019, Abdulghani, 35, was selected by Morden, a city of less than 10,000 people, which recommended him for the Manitoba provincial immigration nomination program. The city is committed to offering wraparound supports to the families, including job-matching support.

Abdulghani, who has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Technology-Baghdad, said he and his wife Hajir Saad Ghareeb, 27, left Kurdistan in 2015 for Jordan after racism against them and other Sunnis, in particular in Northern Iraq, intensified.

“We were happy in our first year in Amman because we felt safe and nobody would hurt us there,” he said. “But life was very hard. We were refugees and could only work illegally. I worked as a mechanical maintenance engineer at an electrical cable factory. I was earning less than half of what I should have been making in that position.”

Abdulghani applied for scholarships to continue his studies and finally got the financial support of a German Catholic charity to enrol in a master’s program in mechatronics engineering at Philadelphia University in Jordan. He graduated in February.

“I was working fulltime and studying fulltime, and maybe had two hours of sleep each day,” he recalled. “But when you have no hope, you do anything to rebuild your life. You use every drop of energy to keep going. You don’t care if you are tired or not.”

The family was thrilled when they received their Canadian permanent residence visas on March 15, almost a year after they were initially picked by the city of Morden. Then two days later, Jordan closed down its airport to international flights amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, in early August, the family learned they would board a Canadian repatriation flight that departed Friday and arrived in Winnipeg late Saturday, after hours of stopovers in Istanbul and Montreal.

Abdulghani has already had two online interviews for jobs in Morden and nearby Winkler. He is also planning to take a doctoral degree after learning about the University of Manitoba’s renowned biomedical engineering program.

“It’s been an amazing first day in Morden for us,” said Abdulghani, who has yet to meet anyone other than a cab driver who was sent by the city to guide his rental car to their new home Saturday, where they are under quarantine. (Officials have filled the fridge in their apartment with food.) “We are still living this moment. We can’t believe we are here.”

According to Talent Beyond Boundaries, there are now 20,000 refugees registered in its talent database — most of them now living in Jordan and Lebanon. Fifty-seven have been shortlisted for Canada’s new project. Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Yukon have also signed on to participate in the program.

Source: From Jordan to Morden: Iraqi family thrilled to be in Manitoba under new program to resettle skilled refugees

‘Exodus’ from Hong Kong? Those who fear national security law mull best offers from welcoming countries

Will see in the end how many decide to leave Hong Kong given that some likely have business interests that make leaving more difficult but given the large number of Canadian expatriates, would expect a significant number of returnees and immigrants and refugee claimants:
For several weeks, veteran emigration consultant Willis Fu Yiu-wai

found himself busier than usual ,answering queries from Hongkongers anxious to leave the city.

They were worried about Beijing’s new national security law for Hong Kong, which came into force on June 30.

In recent days, however, Fu’s clients appeared in less of a rush to go. They had not changed their minds about leaving, but now wanted to wait and see which country would offer Hongkongers the best immigration deal.

“They said they didn’t want to proceed yet,” he said.

Many decided to hold on after Britain announced this month that it would offer a new path to citizenship to nearly 3 million Hongkongers
eligible for British National (Overseas) Passports. These people, born before Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, will have the right to remain in the country for five years, after which they can apply for permanent residence and, eventually, citizenship.
Since then, Australia also announced plans
to welcome Hongkongers. Now those considering emigration are anticipating that other countries will open their doors too.

“It has upended the whole market,” said Jason Yu Wai-lung, chief immigration consultant at Smart2Go, another firm helping people who want to emigrate.

The national security law, which targets acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, has sparked concerns over

sweeping powers handed to policeand the possible erosion of human rights in Hong Kong.

After Beijing first announced in May that it would tailor-make a law for Hong Kong, inquiries shot up at Fu’s firm, Goldmax Immigration. At one point, it received 60 inquiry forms in a day, six times the usual.

Fu said many of his clients were nurses from “almost every hospital in Hong Kong” and mainly in their 20s to 40s.

He said the British proposal for those with BN(O) passports offered a breakthrough deal for skilled Hongkongers who do not have a lot of money. Up till now, there have been high barriers to moving to Britain, such as unique professional skills, high proficiency in the English language, or hefty investments of at least 2 million pounds (HK$19.5 million).

About 350,000 Hongkongers already hold BN(O) passports, and more are eligible to apply for it.

Protester worries about reprisal

Salesman Leo Chan*, 26, said he would be ready to leave as soon as the British government laid down its plan. The university-educated Hongkonger said he feared for himself as he waved the Union flag while taking part in anti-government protests last year.

Although the law has no retroactive effect, Chan said he was still worried. Before Britain announced its offer, he was prepared to apply for any working holiday visa he could get, to some countries which allow visitors to stay and work for up to a year or two.

Now he has set his sights on the new route to Britain. “It seems easier, and brings a better chance of settling there,” he said.

David Lee* fears he might run into trouble with the new law, having worked as a journalist in Hong Kong. He and his wife, who holds a British passport, have also decided to leave.

Britain seems a natural choice as his wife has family there, but the couple are waiting to see if the United States might have an immigration offer for Hongkongers, as they prefer the latter.

In June, Britain began briefing members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance  – the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – about a possible exodus from Hong Kong.
Last Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that his administration would grant more than 10,000 Hongkongers on student and temporary visas a pathway to permanent residence  by allowing them to stay in the country for five years. He said Australia was ready to welcome Hongkongers with skills and businesses and looking to start a new life elsewhere.

According to 2018 data on Australia’s Department of Education website, the country granted more than 11,000 visas for Hong Kong students. The Australian offer will also apply to future visa holders and students from Hong Kong.

Beijing has criticised Britain and Australia for their offers of haven to Hongkongers wishing to flee the national security law.

Will they leave? ‘Too early to say’

Sociology professor Eric Fong Wai-ching, who specialises in migration at the University of Hong Kong, said it was one thing for people to say they intend to leave, and quite another for them to actually uproot and go. He felt it was too early to conclude that there would be an exodus from Hong Kong.

“Many are still at the planning stage,” he said, although he pointed to an uptick of applications for “certificates of no criminal conviction”, a document granted by police to those applying for a wide range of visas, including for education and emigration.

According to police, the number of certificates issued rose to 2,782 in June, from 1,711 in the previous month. Last year 33,252 were issued, a sharp rise from around 20,000 in previous years. Last year’s increase came in the wake of months of anti-government protests.

But another indicator of people leaving Hong Kong for good – the number of tax clearance filings to the Inland Revenue – has not changed significantly.

The tax authority processed 2,500 such filings a month in May and June this year, its spokesman said. There were on average 2,400 monthly cases in the financial years of 2019-20 and 2018-19.

For some Hongkongers, Taiwan is also a popular emigration destination due to its proximity and similar culture, according Yu from Smart2Go, who specialises in helping people move there. One attraction is the relatively low investment required to migrate there – about HK$1.5 million.

In the first five months of this year, Taiwan granted permanent residence to 558 Hongkongers, following on 1,474 over the whole of last year and just below 1,100 each year between 2016 and 2018.

Taiwan announced last month that apart from providing humanitarian support to Hongkongers feeling anxious over the national security law, it would also offer immigration assistance to those keen to invest there or who possess special talents.

Emigration consultant Yu said inquiries about Taiwan leapt tenfold during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, mostly from retirees, although about 20 per cent were younger people.

There was a change after Britain announced its plan for those with BN(O) passports. “People under 40 years old who made inquiries have completely disappeared,” he said.

Only older people were still considering moving to Taiwan now, he said, drawn mainly by the island’s lower living costs. The new national security law has pushed some to make up their minds sooner.

“Some of them now want to put their plans into action, and bring forward their retirement,” Yu said.

Source: Hongkongers looking to migrate mull best offers from host countries

Nicholas A. R. Fraser: Reassessing Canada’s refugee policy in the COVID-19 era

I think the post-Covid-19 will need a broader rethink of immigration policy than only the question of refugees, as opening up any one category has potential implications on the other categories and levels.

While the government may well decide to maintain planned ongoing immigration growth, likely economic impacts make that assumption risky at best.

Similarly, depending on the results of the US presidential election, Canada as many have noted, will be facing a whole series of challenges and need for policy rethinking, of which immigration will be one aspect:

The decision by the Trump administration on April 22nd to effectively freeze immigration flows into the United States is the latest in a series of moves by that government to restrict immigration. In Canada, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a partial border closure that has disproportionately impacted refugees and been criticized by several human rights watchdogs including Amnesty International. In recent months, Canada also temporarily halted the flow of refugees travelling here from the US, stranding many asylum seekers.

While Canadians may take some comfort in knowing that Canada’s federal government has attempted to limit the impact of the current border closure, we should nevertheless learn from these experiences and pause to consider how the current pandemic and future ones might impact refugee policy. How can policy-makers balance very real health concerns with their obligations to protect refugees, whose need has not dissipated and whose circumstances may well be increasingly precarious due to COVID-19 outbreaks in their countries of origin?

Intermittent border closures may be a necessary component of the government’s response to pandemics, but we have little experience with such measures in a globalized world. Just as open borders must be carefully managed to balance health and security issues against economic and human rights concerns, so must closed borders. Canada needs a comprehensive border closure strategy for our new and still-changing times.

When it comes to refugee policy, liberal democratic receiving states often face duelling pressures: upholding the rights of refugees while at the same time controlling their borders and processing applications competently and efficiently. The COVID-19 pandemic poses new challenges on both counts that policy-makers must respond to in the coming weeks and months. Yet these new challenges also foreshadow long-term trends that will persist for decades due to future pandemics and climate change: new types of refugees, and peaks and valleys of migration flows in response to intermittent border closures.

More reasons to flee

For years, wealthy democracies have responded to humanitarian crises by hosting refugees from conflict zones as well as sending development aid and peacekeepers to these areas. Devised in the wake of the genocides committed in Europe and Asia during the Second World War, the Refugee Convention was meant to provide protection for people fleeing persecution. However, the spectre of a global pandemic that threatens prosperity or even basic economic stability and requires the suspension of international travel is a serious game-changer for refugee protection.

Like climate change, pandemics pose a global risk that could disproportionately impact developing countries. Since February, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in many countries with world-class health care systems and high-functioning state infrastructures. One can only imagine how COVID-19 may critically weaken or even devastate public services in countries with high levels of conflict, socio-economic inequality or corruption. The World Health Organization is already projecting that African countries could be severely hit by COVID-19.

To meet this new challenge, the cabinet can do a lot with targeted development aid. However, given the long-term trajectory of forced migration, Canada’s policy-makers must anticipate receiving people who are fleeing displacement not because of persecution but because of pandemics, climate change and natural disasters that will make it difficult, and in some cases impossible, for people to return to their countries of origin.

The federal government should direct Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Global Affairs Canada (GAC) to identify a new category of potential refugee-sending countries: those in high-impact zones that have seen their public infrastructure collapse because of a pandemic or other crisis. As with previous refugee-producing crises, IRCC and GAC should consider collaborating with civil society groups to sponsor individuals from such high-risk zones as refugees to Canada or easing requirements for family reunification for Canadians with relatives from such places.

While the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act establishes a legal framework for accepting people escaping persecution, Canada has also extended protection to those fleeing other desperate situations, such as the refugees from a major earthquake that devastated Haiti 10 years ago. Furthermore, the government has already done research on the likelihood of people fleeing the effects of climate change and signed the United Nations Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which requires signatory countries to “identify, develop and strengthen solutions for migrants compelled to leave their countries of origin due to slow-onset natural disasters, the adverse effects of climate change, and environmental degradation.” At present, this agreement has not been codified into Canadian law. The federal government led by IRCC should work with advocacy groups such as the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Association for Refugee Lawyers to update the existing legal framework to accept climate change refugees as well as those fleeing natural disasters and pandemics.

Managing waves of migration

Periodic border closures complicate flows of forced migration by incentivizing migrants to arrive in larger numbers while host countries’ borders are open. The implications for government agencies that handle immigration are significant. Managing administrative capacity — keeping visas and refugee claims running smoothly through the departmental machinery — is critical not only for carrying out policy goals but also to ward off negative political impacts that could undermine public support for hosting refugees. When governments are perceived to be losing control over immigration because of backlogs or bungling, it is not hard for critics of the government (including but not limited to far-right parties) to trigger public anger and anti-refugee sentiment. Despite Canada’s tradition as an immigrant nation, it is not immune from such public backlashes. The significant number of Canadians expressing frustration with the Trudeau government’s willingness to admit tens of thousands of asylum seekers from the US since 2017 is a case in point.

For this reason, ensuring that Canada’s immigration bureaucracy can keep up with surges in applications is essential — especially during pandemics, when the movement of people can easily provoke public fear and anxiety. Policy-makers could effectively manage increased administrative pressures by developing a strategy for closing and opening the border that involves civil society organizations who have been essential partners in helping develop and implement Canada’s immigration and refugee policies. Specifically, lawyers, NGOs and community organizations have provided channels for gathering information about refugee flows and developments in source countries that is critical for ensuring that policy is applied equitably.

In the past, the cabinet has commissioned independent reviews to assess the impact of procedural changes to immigration and refugee policy. The federal government should appoint a similar commission of policy experts from IRCC and civil society to study two core aspects of refugee policy: first, how immigration procedures can be improved to operate effectively during periods of open and closed borders; and, second, to what extent Canada’s existing settlement services and infrastructure need to be altered in order to comply with social distancing measures and adapt to the changed economy. Finally, IRCC and the Canada Border Services Agency should establish facilities and recruit medical staff at all ports of entry before the border is reopened so that they can screen all international travellers, including refugees.

Many of the administrative capacity and rights issues associated with refugee policy stem from governments and migrants of all sorts reacting to uncertainty. In developing a comprehensive border closure strategy, the government can work with civil society to reduce uncertainty and set clear expectations. An expansion of Canada’s categories of refugees is also needed, to acknowledge new global realities. No government may be able to predict what events will unfold, but Canada can utilize the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to update its immigration and refugee policies in order to meet similar challenges we are likely to face in the coming years.

Source: Reassessing Canada’s refugee policy in the COVID-19 era

How a haven for refugees became home to the worst COVID-19 outbreak in Toronto’s shelter system

Of note:

In March, staff at Willowdale Welcome Centre, which would become the site of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the city’s shelter system, grew concerned about infection control at the facility.

The refugee centre had opened in the fall. It housed about 200 men and women on separate floors, many of them professionals from Uganda and Nigeria seeking a better life in Canada.

It was soon operating seamlessly and clients quickly found housing and jobs.

“Once the shelter had its roots in place, it was pretty well-run. I was impressed,” said an employee who is not being named because he is worried about his future employment.

As March progressed, concerns about COVID-19 transmission grew — concerns which the employee and others at Homes First Society, the registered charity that operates Willowdale, felt were not being heard by management.

This account is based on interviews with staff at Willowdale and other shelters at Homes First; on e-mails between employees and management and official complaints made to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.

Staff at the shelter were being told not to wear masks — not unusual in the early days of the pandemic, when the focus was on preserving supply for front-line workers and as research suggested masks provided limited defence against the virus outside of health-care settings.

Staff were told to focus on proper handwashing and increased cleaning with disinfectants. But Lysol wipes, used to clean tables in the cafeteria between services, quickly went missing and were not replaced.

Responding to questions from the Star, Patricia Mueller, Homes First’s chief executive officer, said the charity followed public health guidelines at all times when it came to infection control measures, including personal protective equipment for employees.

Meanwhile, the outbreak is now over at the shelter, Mueller said, as no active cases remain.

In the beginning, the Willowdale employee said, it was difficult to get the shelter’s clientele — most of them 40 or younger — to consistently abide by the rules of social distancing and to follow the detailed recommendations related to handwashing and other measures.

“Younger ones said, ‘I’m not going to die,’” said the employee.

Many clients were diligent. Others were not.

The employee had heard, for example, that even after the city banned gatherings of more than five people, some refugees at the centre continued to attend church services — meeting in private residences.

“We have a friend’s house that is running it,” one of them told the employee.

It was while he was watching a newscast from New York City, fast becoming an international hot spot for the virus, that the employee made his decision.

“It made me realize we were on the same trajectory and I didn’t want to be a part of it,” said the employee. He quit soon thereafter and hasn’t been back.

He remains healthy. Meanwhile, more than two dozen of his former co-workers and more than 180 clients at Willowdale have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“I have really close friends who got it. My heart breaks for them,” he said.

The Willowdale outbreak highlights the challenges of fighting COVID-19 in a congregate setting — anywhere people are grouped together indoors — and how a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach can go awry.

The refugee centre became the location with the highest number of infections in the city’s shelter system, which includes 72 locations. As of Wednesday, 185 clients had tested positive for COVID-19, and more than a dozen staff. No one has died.

At one point, the large number of clients at Willowdale being moved into COVID-19 recovery sites set up by the city raised concerns that there would be no room for clients from other shelters at the recovery centres.

So Willowdale was itself turned into a recovery centre, and medical personnel were brought to the shelter to attend to clients there, Mueller said.

Four Homes First workers who were interviewed for this story, including two who worked at Willowdale, say things would not have gotten so bad if their early concerns had been addressed in a timely fashion.

They are not being identified because they are fearful of being fired or not being rehired.

“Homes First dropped the ball on guarding against the disease,” according to a statement from Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union representing workers there.

Homes First Society lists 18 properties on its website, offering shelter ranging from single rooms for single men to townhouses for families.

According to an email exchange provided to the Star, union representatives at Homes First shelters began discussing the need to talk to management about safer working conditions on March 15. They spoke to human resources on March 19 and Mueller on March 23.

Their fears proved prescient: After scanning the news and medical literature for what was going on in other parts of the world, they asked for measures that would soon come to be regarded as routine, including maintaining a two-metre distance in shelters, ending the practice of allowing staff to work at more than one location, and face masks.

They tried to escalate their concerns in some cases, taking their complaints to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.

A spokesperson for the ministry said it investigated complaints regarding PPE at three Homes First locations in March and April, including Willowdale.

A ministry inspector investigated by phone and no orders or requirements were issued.

“It was determined that all appropriate guidelines were being followed and no orders were issued,” according to the ministry.

An employee at Willowdale who spoke to the Star was diagnosed with COVID-19 and became so ill she thought she would die.

In the early days of the pandemic, she said she was told by management that she could wear a mask if she liked, but she had to provide them herself — and at that time, masks were impossible to buy in stores.

Initially, there were Lysol wipes on the lunch tables to keep the surfaces clean between shifts, but they were removed because management said they were being stolen.

After that, the wipes were locked in offices, the employee said.

There were sinks with soap and paper towels, where people could wash their hands before sitting down to eat, but they’d sometimes run out of paper towels, she added.

Staying the recommended two metres away from clients was difficult because of the layout of the shelter, she added. The lobby is where the intake office is located and the security desk, and it’s where people would line up for the cafeteria. People were constantly criss-crossing paths.

“It’s a pretty small bottleneck,” she said.

Mueller agrees there were issues around supplies, including Lysol and paper towels — in some cases they were being stolen, in some cases overused, she said, and it took a while to figure out how to address that.

Another concern for staff at Homes First was the high rotation among staff between homes, according to a third employee, who asked to remain nameless.

Homes First employs about 300 people, including about 175 relief staff who used to move between facilities, Mueller said.

She said that after the meeting between staff and management on March 23, Homes First began taking steps to end the practice, but it took several weeks to accomplish.

“I’m with them, I would have wanted it done faster,” Mueller said. She added that it simply wasn’t possible to manage the change more quickly.

Before the pandemic began, there were more than 7,000 people in Toronto’s shelter system, including nearly 3,000 in hotels and family settings, according to the city’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration.

The city operates 11 shelter and respite locations; 61 are operated by community non-profit agencies like Homes First.

In order to increase social distancing, SSHA began moving people within existing programs on March 18, according to SSHA general manager Mary-Anne Bedard.

By the end of April, 1,400 shelter clients had been moved. The figure now tops 2,000, Bedard said in an interview.

Activists have criticized the city for not moving enough clients quickly enough, and for moving some to community centres, which don’t provide enough opportunities for social distancing or isolating people who begin showing symptoms.

A group of activists sued the city, which, as part of an interim settlement, agreed to meet physical distancing targets at all homeless shelters.

Bedard said community centres were chosen because they were easy to convert quickly.

“I know there is criticism out there, but I am confident that we’ve done everything as quickly as we could,” Bedard said.

While masks were provided to shelter staff in March, there was significant concern about the availability of PPE, and the pressure was on not to use valuable stock if it didn’t have to be used, she added.

She said SSHA doesn’t yet understand why there were outbreaks at some shelters and not others.

She warned that the numbers of infected at shelters will continue to rise.

“There’s good reason for that — because we are doing more testing,” she said.

If all the recommendations put forth by Willowdale staff early in the pandemic had been put into place, would the outcome have been different?

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto and Toronto General Hospital, who has also worked with Willowdale, said masks may have made a small difference.

“The masks aren’t perfect — it’s not like you’re sealing the secretions from leaving your face — these are porous masks and you can still contaminate surfaces around you. Masks are helpful in these settings, but they aren’t the saviour,” he said.

Listening to front-line workers is critical, according to Tiziana Casciaro, professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management.

While drafting policies at the top — like the public health policies that informed decisions at Willowdale and other institutions — is the most efficient way to meet challenges, it has drawbacks.

“It allows top-down directives to take over the life of an organization without any opportunity for the bottom-up loop to ever close. This is something that I think applied in this particular case,” Casciaro said.

Bedard and Mueller meanwhile, say they did the best they could with the information at hand.

“There is always going to be, in retrospect, things that you look back on and say I wish, I could have, and we will learn from that for sure, but I don’t think we can second-guess the things that we did,” Bedard said.

Source: How a haven for refugees became home to the worst COVID-19 outbreak in Toronto’s shelter system