Parrainage de réfugiés syriens: des citoyens passent la nuit dehors

A good news story that Quebec is far from monolithic in its views on immigration and refugees:

Des Québécois ont passé la nuit d’hier à aujourd’hui devant les locaux du ministère de l’Immigration afin de s’assurer que leur demande de parrainage de réfugiés syriens soit parmi les 750 qui seront acceptées pour étude dès la réouverture du programme aujourd’hui.

La file d’attente devant les bureaux du ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion du Québec (MIDI) a commencé vers 16h, hier. Le premier sur place est arrivé avec une chaise et de quoi passer la nuit dans la rue. «On n’a pas le choix d’être ici si on veut être sûr que notre demande passe», a-t-il confié, vers 21h.

Derrière lui, à cette heure-là, neuf autres personnes attendaient rue Notre-Dame, certains sur de petites chaises, d’autres munis de leur sac de couchage.

Depuis janvier 2017, le volume important de demandes de parrainage de réfugiés syriens a forcé le MIDI à arrêter momentanément le programme. Dès aujourd’hui, les demandeurs pourront de nouveau soumettre leur dossier.

Les portes ouvrent ce matin à 8h30. En tout, 750 dossiers de parrainage seront étudiés par le Ministère. Seulement 100 pourront être déposés par des particuliers qui souhaitent parrainer un groupe de deux à cinq personnes. C’est surtout les parrains pour cette catégorie de dossier qui étaient en file hier. «On imagine qu’il va y avoir bien plus que 100 personnes, donc je m’assure de ma place pour que le messager prenne ma place demain», explique une dame, cinquième en ligne, installée dans une chaise pliante.

Stratégie commune

Tous ont la même stratégie : attendre leur messager, qui prendra la relève pour déposer leur dossier. Car aucun dossier remis en mains propres ne sera accepté, les documents devront obligatoirement être déposés par service de messagerie.

«Moi, il est là avec moi déjà», a lancé une femme, pointant l’homme à ses côtés. Elle a payé le messager pour la nuit, afin d’être certaine que sa demande soit parmi les premières déposées.

«Le fait de devoir venir faire la ligne comme ça démontre qu’il n’y a pas assez de place pour les demandes de parrainage», a observé une jeune femme, assise sur son sac de couchage, à côté d’une amie. «Ceux qui n’auront pas notre chance vont devoir attendre une autre année, a-t-elle ajouté. Mais on parle de réfugiés, et beaucoup d’entre eux ne peuvent pas attendre un an.»

«Chacun pour soi»

«Je ne suis vraiment pas confiante, j’ai peur qu’administrativement, ce soit le chaos demain», a avoué une des personnes en ligne. Autour d’elle, plusieurs ont hoché la tête, en signe d’approbation.

Elle a également indiqué craindre un grand désordre à l’ouverture des portes du ministère. «On ne sait pas ce qui va arriver quand la file va s’étendre et qu’il y aura plus de demandes que ce qu’ils vont accepter.»

«Ce que je trouve dommage, c’est que ça nous oblige à être chacun pour soi, pour s’assurer sa place, alors qu’on veut tous aider des gens», ajoute une autre dame, à ses côtés.

Hier soir, les quelques personnes en file ont inscrit leur nom, en ordre sur une feuille, pour avoir une liste de leur ordre d’arrivée. «C’est très informel, on ne sait même pas si ça va être respecté», s’est-elle inquiétée.

«Je pense que le Ministère fait de son mieux, a quant à lui affirmé le premier citoyen dans la file. Mais ça pourrait être mieux organisé, c’est certain, car la demande est vraiment très haute par rapport au nombre de places. Beaucoup de dossiers se sont accumulés depuis l’arrêt du programme.»

Douglas Todd: Trudeau government goes silent on Syrian refugees

To be fair to the government, the Syrian refugee program was set up with better outcome tracking in place, to allow for a higher quality evaluation at the five-year mark. Census 2021 will also provide a good sense of how well Syrian refugees have done, both PSRs and GARs.

I suspect that some of the lack of interim information may reflect the pressures for regular data on asylum seekers; indeed while monthly operational data is updated regularly, quarterly and annual reporting is slower (e.g., quarterly citizenship operational data dates from June 2017):

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election promise to welcome 25,000 refugees from Syria was aimed at showing voters his compassion. The followup photo opportunities he arranged in 2015 with smiling Syrian refugees, such as doctors, drew international headlines.

Once in power, Trudeau’s Liberals switched the name of the Immigration Department to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, to highlight their concern for those forced to leave chaotic home countries, especially Syria.

Given the grand gestures, you would be forgiven for believing the federal Liberals and the department responsible for refugees would be tracking the fate of the tens of the thousands of struggling Syrians that Canada has recently taken in.

But, after more than two weeks of inquiries by Postmedia, a media relations officer acknowledged the department has not produced any report in almost two years on the about 50,000 Syrian refugees now in Canada.

Canada’s auditor general is among the unamused. The Liberals had a plan to monitor whether the mostly Arabic-speaking refugees were learning English, working, receiving social assistance and going to school, but the government has failed to follow through, said auditor general Michael Ferguson. It is Ottawa’s responsibility, he said, to make sure Syrians refugees “integrate into Canadian society.”

The federal Liberals are not following the more transparent approach of Sweden and Germany, which took in the largest numbers of the 2.6 million mostly-Syrian asylum seekers who arrived in Europe in 2015 and 2016. The governments of those countries are providing extensive data on refugee outcomes, in addition to launching waves of job-training programs.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did, to be fair, release a one-year-after report on Syrian refugees in December, 2016. It was moderately helpful, since it showed half the privately sponsored refugees had jobs in Canada. But employment fell to 10 per cent among the larger cohort of “government-assisted” refugees, who are typically less educated and often illiterate.

The early Ottawa report also touched on how, after refugees’ first year in Canada, they are cut off from direct stipends from the federal government.

How have things gone for Syrian refugees in Canada in the almost two years since that lone departmental report? No one really knows. That’s unlike in Sweden and Germany, where refugee programs are increasingly thorny electoral issues.

Sweden has discovered, for instance, that, despite creating hundreds of “fast-track” job-training programs for recent refugees, only one third of those who completed a two-year full-time integration program in 2017 were working or studying three months later.

Refugees in Germany have done a bit better, but three-quarters are working in jobs needing few skills and with poor prospects. Unemployment is exceedingly high.

How is integration going in Canada?

When Postmedia sought answers from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, a media official provided the website of another public-relations official at another department, who recommended contacting Canadian academics, who either didn’t respond, had nothing to say or suggested contacting yet other academics. It’s known as “getting the runaround.” It may eventually bear fruit, but who knows?

One non-governmental source in B.C., however, did have some helpful informal insights about what’s happening in this  province, the destination of about one in 10 Syrian refugees.

Maggie Hosgood, who has helped coordinate more than 100 B.C. United Church congregations that have privately sponsored 65 Syrian families, said most refugees “are doing all right,” with good outcomes for children, especially girls, who attend public schools.

But most refugees, many of whom end up in Burnaby, are struggling to afford housing in hyper-costly Metro Vancouver. In addition, Hosgood estimated roughly one in four Syrian adults are on welfare.

Unlike the highly educated refugees who Trudeau mingles with for photo opportunities, most Syrian refugees have jobs that require few skills, such as cleaners or jobs in shops where they don’t have to speak English.

Many Syrians are struggling to learn English in the classroom, Hosgood said, regretting that the former federal Conservative government did away with a program in which refugees could, at the same time, learn both English and a trade.

There are positive exceptions. Some male refugees are bakers, candy makers or mechanics. One carpenter, Hosgood said, has developed a thriving business, learning English while he works. “He’s got plans.”

As German and Swedish government officials are discovering, Hosgood also confirmed many Middle Eastern “husbands don’t want their wives to work.” They think, she said, the woman should stay at home and the husband should provide for the family.

“The Canada Child Benefit has been a godsend for most families,” Hosgood said, echoing a study suggesting most Syrian parents come with three to four children, sometimes eight or 10. “Big families would be doing very well.”

Syrian mothers and fathers with four children can get about $50,000 a year in various taxpayer-funded social-service benefits. The Canada Child Benefit provides $6,400 a year for each child under six and $5,400 for children between six and 17, while provincial welfare can give about $12,000 a year to each adult.

Hosgood said many of the grateful Syrian refugees, who know how to stretch their money,  are now starting to sponsor relatives to come to Canada.

Integrating refugees into the well-off West requires playing the long game. European countries have found that refugees’ full entry into the taxpaying workforce often doesn’t approach the national average for a couple of decades.

Instead of posturing in photo opportunities, Canada’s governing politicians need to follow Europe and track what is happening on the difficult ground. It’s impossible to create effective integration programs if no one knows what’s working and what’s not.

Source: Douglas Todd: Trudeau government goes silent on Syrian refugees

GUNTER: Liberals play a dangerous game with illegal immigration

Representative of SunMedia commentary, with the canard that Trudeau’s ill-advised old tweet is wholly responsible for the influx, not the Trump policies themselves (and government tweets since then have taken a different turn).

While there is and can be legitimate criticism of the government’s handling of the asylum seekers, no solutions are as easy as claimed. When the Sun Sea arrived in Canadian waters, former Minister Kenney played up the threat to Canada’s system of managed immigration, but most were accepted as asylum seekers.

That being said, given that it does strike many Canadians as queue jumping and the like. The opposition naturally makes this an issue (more care in language and tone needed, however).

Should the apparent recent declining trend in asylum seekers continue (too early to say), that may defuse some of the tension:

Canadians’ tolerance for illegal immigrants is about to be tested as never before.

Around 60 per cent of Canadians in most polls claim to be open to illegal immigration if the refugees now pouring into Quebec are truly oppressed. Indeed, it is this support the Trudeau government seems to be counting on as cover for its refusal to do anything about the 3,000 or more illegal immigrants – many from Haiti, Nigeria and Central America – currently crossing the Quebec border every month.

The federal Liberals think this deluge is a sign of Canada’s magnanimity and multiculturalism. They also think it will win them votes if the refugees are portrayed as asylum seekers from Donald Trump’s mean-spirited America.

While Donald Trump is separating refugee parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border, our hipster PM is signalling a warm welcome to anyone who can arrive at our doorstep.

Our prime minister is tweeting out words of encouragement to illegal immigrants and his government is doing everything it can to resettle asylum seekers quickly, so they slip into Canadian society unnoticed until well after it’s too late to remove them.

But the Liberals are playing a dangerous game, not just politically, but also with the rule of law.

Canadians probably are more tolerant of illegal immigrants than are Americans. But then again, we haven’t had the volume of illegals they have had to contend with.

For nearly 30 years, the estimate of the number of undocumented “aliens” in the States has hovered around 11 million. But given that no one knows with certainty how many come in every year (only how many are thrown out), it is entirely possible the total is closer to 17 million to 20 million.

That would be the equivalent of between 1.7 million and 2.0 million in Canada. But the federal immigration and border agencies estimate there are only about 100,000 illegal immigrants north of the border – or only about five per cent of the number in the U.S.

It’s pretty easy to be morally superior when facing a crisis that is only one-20th the size of your neighbour’s.

However, the RCMP estimate that last year nearly 21,000 people crossed our border illegally seeking asylum. Most had come from the United States, so technically could not be deemed refugees. (If you arrive in Canada from a country that is not threatening your life or your freedom, you cannot be considered a refugee, legally.)

So far this year, at least another 8,000 have walked across our border in Quebec pulling their worldly possessions in suitcases, duffels and cardboard boxes.

The temporary welcome camp Ottawa set up in Quebec can only house fewer than 1,000 asylum seekers at a time.

Ottawa has, therefore, tried to bribe the other provinces with grants to help temporarily settle the rest in college dorms, social housing, emergency shelters, even hotels. But money and patience are running out.

And other provinces and cities are getting wise.

Ontario’s new premier, Doug Ford, recently told Prime Minister Trudeau his province would no longer help settle asylum seekers, to which the PM responded with a smug, sanctimonious lecture on Canada’s refugee obligations.

But like a lot of what Trudeau believes, his lecture was long on virtue-signalling and short on substance.

Canada is not, as Trudeau claimed, required to provide everyone who shows up here with protections equal to those afforded citizens. We must safeguard their lives and freedom, but only if they have arrived from an unsafe country.

(You can get cute, if you want, and insist Trump has made American unsafe, but that’s not true under international refugee treaties.)

The truth is, the Trudeau government has mismanaged the current refugee flow. Badly. And they are going to strain Canadians’ generosity with the torrent they have unleashed.

Source: GUNTER: Liberals play a dangerous game with illegal immigration

Ottawa needs to fix operational problems at beleaguered refugee board, say frustrated staff

Yes, like all administrative processes, there is a need for an assembly line approach, in terms of standards, steps and sequence to be followed, and efficiency (where governments struggle, given administrative and legal constraints, as well as corporate culture).

Like it or not, there are resource constraints and the increase in resources in the budget is in that context. And reorganizations, streamlining, new agencies and the like take time to be developed, considered and implemented.

And yes, metrics are part of sound management:

The influx of migrants crossing the border has turned Canada’s asylum system into an assembly line, exacerbating operational problems and prioritizing targets over the needs of vulnerable people, say front-line staff at the country’s beleaguered refugee board.

Immigration and Refugee Board employees told the Star they are overworked and frustrated by organizational challenges.

They fear changes recently recommended in a government report could make things worse.

“To meet (management) targets, people stop being people and start becoming numbers,” said Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, which represents 550 of the board’s 1,000 employees.

“The morale is really low at the moment. There is (only) so much you can do when you don’t have enough resources to go around. And you hear recommendations from people who don’t know how you operate and miss the bigger, systemic and structural issues that need to get changed to solve our problems.”

Canada’s world-renowned asylum system is coping with a ballooning backlog: since 2016, the number of claims has increased by 241 per cent to 50,000 cases, due largely to an unexpected wave of migrants who have walked across the Canada-U.S. border.

Each asylum judge is now expected to process 150 refugee claims a year. The union has been told that number will increase to 200 in 2019.

Despite Ottawa’s promise in the 2018 budget to hire 50 asylum judges and 185 support staff over the next two years, board staff and refugee advocates say that’s not enough to fix a flawed system.

A recent government report, which recommended ways to restructure, isn’t the answer either, they say.

Various federal departments and agencies share responsibility for the intake, adjudication and removal of refugees, for permanent residency approvals, and for all appeals, but it’s the refugee board, which operates as an independent, arm’s-length body, that grants asylum.

The report, by retired deputy immigration minister Neil Yeates, recommended government either establish a new Asylum System Management Board to co-ordinate and streamline the process or create a new Refugee Protection Agency, which would handle the entire asylum system from intake to adjudication, and would fall under the authority of the immigration minister.

“The Yeates Report proposes massive changes to the system,” said Chris Aylward, national president of Public Service Alliance of Canada, the bargaining agent for 18 federal unions, including that of the board.

“It should have focused on ensuring sufficient and proper resources go to the processing and review of asylum claims instead of proposing a new structure that could threaten the rights of claimants to a fair process.”

The concern, according to Warner, is that restructuring would threaten the independence and transparency of the refugee determination system from real or perceived political interference from Ottawa.

Warner said there have been problems at the refugee board since the late 2000s, when the government of Stephen Harper made massive changes to the system and was slow to appoint refugee judges.

“The changes (by the Conservatives) were too extreme; we went from a country that was welcoming to one that was hurry-up-and-leave,” said Warner, who worked as a registry support staffer at the refugee board in Vancouver for 10 years before being elected national executive vice-president of the union.

Among the major flaws of Harper’s reforms, Warner said, were:

  • The elimination of tribunal officers who were charged with: the screening and triage of files; liaising with and answering inquiries from officials, claimants and lawyers; administering cases returned by courts, and providing hearing room support to decision-makers, who now must perform some of the duties on their own.
  • The imposition of statutory timelines to hear asylum claims within 60 days without taking into account the practicality of having a claimant secure a lawyer and legal aid, prepare a narrative, collect documents and evidence, and obtain medical and security clearances within the time frame.
  • Splitting the administration of the refugee protection tribunal from that of other board functions, which created a less flexible organizational structure unable to respond easily to changing operational needs.

“Cumulatively, such administrative tasks represent an astonishing burden, distraction and waste of adjudicator time and expertise,” said one refugee judge, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions. “Yet it is a deliberate construct that continues under the leadership of the board and remains a stark, systemic management failing.”

Compounding the structural problems are shuttered hearing rooms, antiquated dictation software and failed video conference equipment, all of which cause further delays, said Warner.

“Trying to book a hearing room can become World War III between all these divisions within the refugee board,” noted Warner, who added that board policy still requires paper, not electronic, files.

“We can’t receive refugee claimants’ files, documents from lawyers and minister’s counsel by email. They must be received via regular mail or fax. You can imagine in 2018, what a ridiculous thing this is. It prolongs everything on case management.”

While the policy goal is to process 90 per cent of claimants within regulated timelines, the refugee board has never met this target: last year, for example, only 59 per cent of the cases were completed on time.

A veteran case manager at the refugee board said her colleagues are overwhelmed by the workload, but are committed to their jobs in offering asylum to those in need of Canada’s protection while maintaining the integrity of the country’s refugee system.

“We need to have more adjudicative support provided to the members. We need to move away from using metrics as a way of measuring productivity. We need enough hearing rooms. We need to allow people to leave work behind and not feel obligated to take their work home,” said the case manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to media.

“We need all of these things so that we can retain the compassion that we all have for the clients we serve.”

Source: Ottawa needs to fix operational problems at beleaguered refugee board, say frustrated staff

Italian Catholic priests go to war with Salvini over immigration

Noteworthy:

Gianfranco Formenton, a priest in Italy’s central Umbria region who has long preached against racism and in support of migrants, knows what it is like to clash with Matteo Salvini, the recently installed interior minister and leader of the far-right League party.

In response to the party’s xenophobic rhetoric in 2015 – the year more than a million migrants arrived in Europe and 150,000 landed on Italy’s southern shores – he put a sign up on the door of his church in San Martino di Trignano, a hamlet of the town of Spoleto, saying: “Racists are forbidden from entering. Go home!”

He immediately bore the wrath of Salvini, who wrote on Twitter: “Perhaps the priest prefers smugglers, slaveholders and terrorists? Pity Spoleto and this church if this man [calls himself] a priest.”

Fr Formenton is also believed to have been the target of intimidation by far-right sympathisers when his rectory and home were ransacked a few days after Luca Traini, a failed League candidate in a local ballot, injured six Africans in a shooting in the town of Macerata in early February.

As the Democratic party, the biggest left-wing force in Italy, appears cowed in the face of Salvini’s vitriolic immigration stance, fearing it will lose support, the interior minister’s strongest opponents are priests such as Formenton.

But they are struggling to convince parishioners to welcome migrants, amid mounting adulation of Salvini, a Catholic who reportedly attends mass.

“We have a population that wants blessings from the church, processions and religious rites, but every time Pope Francis recalls migrants or the poor, they no longer listen,” Formenton told the Guardian.

“There is an evil force of racism, and Salvini has contributed to this. He’s been a magician in cultivating hate and manipulating anger. People of all ages have become racist because of the climate we’re living in.”

Knowing that many of his backers are devout Catholics, Salvini has exploited religion to galvanise support. The 45-year-old once again brandished a rosary and swore on the gospel to be “loyal to his people” while addressing thousands of ecstatic voters at the League’s annual rally in Pontida, a town in the northern Lombardy region, last Sunday. His speech, during which he pledged to create a European-wide alliance against “mass immigration”, came a few days after Mario Delpini, the Archbishop of Milan, pleaded for more humanity among Christians.

“Can they go to mass each Sunday and ignore the drama that is happening in front of their eyes?” said Delpini.

In the few days since Salvini’s speech, more than 200 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean.

Pope Francis also spoke out after Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, blocked the Aquarius, a rescue ship with more than 600 people on board, from docking in Italy in June. “I encourage those who bring them aid and hope that the international community will act in a united and efficient fashion to prevent the causes of forced migration,” the pontiff said.

At the same time, Salvini has been nurturing a relationship with US Cardinal Richard Burke, a fierce critic of Pope Francis and supporter of Donald Trump, as he strives to build consensus from within the church.

Cosimo Scordato, a priest at Saint Francesco church in Ballarò, a neighbourhood of Palermo and home to many migrants recently arrived in Sicily, compared Salvini’s use of religious imagery to that deployed by Mafia bosses.

“Holding a rosary in front of thousands of supporters reminds me of Mafia bosses holding the Bible,” Fr Scordato, who has been subjected to intimidation by the Mafia, told the Guardian.

“Mobsters believe themselves to be sort-of spokesmen of Christian values, they feel protected by the church and want to show people they have God on their side.”

Scordato said he recently wrote a letter to Salvini encouraging him to see migrants as an opportunity in a country with a low birth rate and ageing population. He got no reply.

Fr Enzo Volpe, a Salesian priest in Palermo, said Christians have “forgotten about the Good Samaritan, who healed and took care of the poor”.

“Young Italians are moving to the US and England in search of work and opportunities,” he added. “What if these countries had stopped Italians at the border like Italy is doing with Africans? What’s the difference? Is it because Africans are black?”

Fr Luigi Ciotti, one of the most popular priests in Italy, organised a protest this weekend, which invites people to wear a red T-shirt – the same colour worn by three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi when his drowned body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015.

“Red also means to stop,” he said. “And we need to stop now, stop and reflect and look inside ourselves. We need to question our hearts and conscience: what are we becoming?”

Earlier this week Fr Alex Zanotelli, a member of the Comboni missionaries in Verona, urged journalists to report on the tragedies in Africa and raise more awareness among Italians about the plight of migrants, who are now perceived by many as “parasites” and “invaders”.

“If Italians don’t know what’s going on in Africa, they cannot understand why so many people are fleeing their lands and risking their lives,” he said.

But with the Democratic party failing to voice a strong opposition, the onus rests on the priests to wrestle against Salvini.

“The party is divided and doesn’t know how to counteract Salvini, and on which issues,” said Mattia Diletti, a politics professor at Sapienza University in Rome. “Due to people being so connected to him and the immigration issue, there is a fear that [opposing him] could be damaging.”

Source: Italian Catholic priests go to war with Salvini over immigration

Refugee claims process needs major overhaul, says report

Will be interesting to see the degree to which the government adopts these recommendations or not. Yeates was former deputy minister at then Citizenship and Immigration Canada and knows the issues well:

Canada must overhaul its refugee claim system or create a new agency that reports to the immigration minister in order to streamline and expedite the asylum process, an independent review has concluded.

The 147-page report makes 64 recommendations — among them calls for a more aggressive approach and increased resources to tackle the backlog of refugee cases over two years.

Neil Yeates, a retired long-time senior civil servant in the federal and Saskatchewan provincial governments, led the government-commissioned review. He said Canada’s refugee determination system is now at a crossroads.

“Once again, it is dealing with a surge in claims that it is ill-equipped to manage, running the risk of creating a large backlog that, if not tackled promptly, may take years to bring to final resolution,” he wrote in his report.

Under the current system, various federal departments and agencies have a role in refugee intake, adjudication, removal or permanent residence approval, and the appeals process, but the Immigration and Refugee Board operates as an arm’s-length body making independent decisions.

The report recommends either maintaining that structure under an Asylum System Management Board, or shaking it up with major structural reforms under an integrated Refugee Protection Agency that reports directly to the immigration minister.

A spokesperson for the IRB told CBC News it has “significantly improved efficiencies at the Refugee Protection Division” and reported “an increase in refugee claim finalization by 40 per cent over the past year.”

The Canadian Council for Refugees said it’s “alarmed” by the proposals, arguing they could undermine the independence of the IRB. It called on the government to maintain the IRB as an independent quasi-judicial tribunal responsible for refugee determination.

“People’s lives hang on decisions on refugee claims,” said CCR president Claire Roque in a statement. “We are not talking about traffic violations, we are talking about a decision that may determine whether a person lives or dies. When we make such important decisions, we need to guarantee due process and the basic protections of an expert and independent tribunal.”

The CCR said the current system — created in the wake of a 1985 Supreme Court decision that found refugee claimants are entitled to charter rights and a fair hearing — is a regarded as a model around the world.

The CCR said any changes must be in line with the principles of fairness, respect for due process and compassion.

“The complex and painful realities of refugees cannot be adequately addressed through a process that focuses on systems and efficiencies,” the organization said in a release.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the government is committed to upholding Canada’s “proud humanitarian tradition” of providing protection to those fleeing persecution while ensuring the asylum system is not abused.

“The findings in the final report will inform our review of Canada’s asylum system as we determine how best to maximize efficiency while ensuring that the system remains fair and continues to be in line with international standards,” said Mathieu Genest in an email.

“IRCC is studying the recommendations and will be consulting stakeholders, and provincial and territorial partners, on the findings over the course of the summer. It is premature to speculate on any changes that may be considered.”

Asylum over immigration

In his report, Yeates noted the growing trend of people using the asylum process instead of regular immigration channels.

“With the advent of human capital immigration models that place a high emphasis on education, language and skilled labour, asylum systems in countries like Canada risk becoming avenues of last resort for lower skilled economic migrants, who generally do not have access to other pathways to permanent residence,” the report reads.

Current approval rates for protection are about 65 per cent, so there are “ever present concerns” that the asylum system can be vulnerable to misuse, Yeates warned.

“When there are lengthy waiting times for an initial protection hearing there are further concerns that the asylum system may be abused to prolong temporary stays in Canada for healthcare, work permits, public schooling, direct access to Canadian citizenship for children born while in Canada and other benefits, all of which make future removal from Canada of many unsuccessful claimants difficult,” the report reads.

A series of reforms in 2012 aimed to expedite the claims process, but the system is still strained by spikes in asylum claims and resources stretched thin.

IRB spokeswoman Anna Pape said claims intake has been exceeding operational capacity by an average of 2,300 cases per month for the last year, creating a growing backlog. As of May 31, 2018, there were about 57,235 pending cases.

She said the IRB has taken steps to improve efficiency, and the number refugee claims finalized increased by about 40 per cent in 2017-18 compared to the previous year.

The IRB is currently funded to finalize approximately 24,000 claims per year.

“The IRB continues to explore new and innovative ways to improve efficiency, with the objective of improving the timeliness of decisions,” Pape said.

Given the current caseload and existing resources, the projected wait time for claims for refugee protection before the IRB has increased to approximately 20 months.

The report recommends stronger financial controls and tracking of overall system spending rather than incremental funding. It estimates that, following the reforms, the federal government has spent an average of $216 million a year on processing claims, social supports such as health care and legal costs. That figure does not include costs for the Federal Court and downstream provincial costs.

The report also recommends that:

  • the minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship table an annual report in Parliament on the system as a whole;

  • the federal government develop an annual plan and budget based on forecasted intake and targets, with tracked expenditures, and establish an external advisory committee of experts;

  • Ottawa streamline the hearings process, using plain language on forms and making better use of technology;

  • the federal government integrate permanent residence processing of non-accompanying spouses/dependents into the asylum intake process to minimize repetitive processes;

  • government prioritize removals as soon as a removal order comes into effect;

  • specialized staff be tasked with asylum intake at major points of entry, and;

  • Ottawa establish a rapid-response contingency workforce to handle increased claim volumes.

Source: Refugee claims process needs major overhaul, says report

Government looking into using frozen assets to help refugees

Creative idea but the modalities and implementation may prove challenging:

The federal government is being asked to consider confiscating frozen assets in Canada to help refugees.

The proposal, which is still in its infancy, comes from the World Refugee Council, an initiative set up by the Waterloo-based Centre for International Governance Innovation.

While final and more formal recommendations will come in a report later this year, the council, chaired by Chrétien-era cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy, already has floated the idea past government officials, according to documents obtained under the access to information law.

A letter to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould from the council’s special adviser suggests introducing legislation to establish a judicial process for requests to seize and “re-purpose” funds to benefit refugees.

“Such assets are frequently brought to Canada (or elsewhere) by corrupt leaders or their associates,” the letter says.

“Since those very leaders are often responsible for forcible displacement as a result of their bad governance, using money stolen by them to assist refugees from their country would provide a certain symmetry.”

The council is proposing that Canadian courts be empowered to take those assets and authorize payments to the country of origin (if the government is “responsible and honest”), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or a non-governmental organization.

“The order could also include an accountability mechanism, with regular reporting to the court as to the disposition of the funds,” reads the letter.

‘No shortage of bad leaders’

The government already has the power to freeze assets through the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act — a version of the U.S. law popularly known as the Magnitsky Act. It targets the assets of corrupt officials “who have committed gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

Fen Hampson, director of the World Refugee Council, said the council’s proposal would be a next step.

“We’ve been trying to think of ways to hold bad regimes to better account,” he told CBC News. “There’s no shortage of bad leaders who are doing terrible things to their populations and creating a major problem for their neighbours, and also globally.”

The council has met with officials from the federal departments of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and Foreign Affairs; the latter department helps to fund the council’s work.

“Hopefully, good ideas will sell themselves, but it’s up to the government to decide whether it sees an opportunity here to play a global leadership role,” said Hampson.

Adam Austen, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in an email the department is “following (the council’s) work closely, and look(s) forward to receiving their recommendations as part of their final report.

“Canada is proud to be providing financial support to the work of the World Refugee Council. We share their goal of finding new and creative solutions to better support migrants and refugees worldwide.”

The World Refugee Council was created to find creative solutions to help mitigate the global migration crisis.

“We fund the refugee system as if it’s a charity ball,” Hampson said. “Donors will make pledges, but they’re not always fulfilled.”

Source: Government looking into using frozen assets to help refugees

The political debate over migrants hasn’t turned ugly yet – but it could

Good piece by Aaron Wherry:

The Liberals want the Conservatives to watch their words. The Conservatives want a plan. They’re both right.

The debate over what to do about the asylum seekers crossing our southern border — revived this week after the Quebec government worried aloud about its ability to deal with a possible surge of arrivals this summer — is serious, tawdry and dangerous.

On Wednesday, for instance, Conservatives celebrated when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged in the Commons that crossing the border between official points of entry could be called “illegal.”

(The government typically refers to “irregular” border crossings. The Conservatives insist on calling them “illegal.”)

NDP MP Jenny Kwan later stood on a point of order to argue that, according to a strict reading of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the people crossing the border at places like Roxham Road in Quebec aren’t committing a crime.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel accused the NDP of quibbling over “semantics,” but the adjective “illegal” is obviously meaningful to the Official Opposition. And when applied to human beings with families and children who might have excellent reasons for fleeing their home country, “illegal” is at least a fraught term.

Playing politics

The Conservatives, who describe the ongoing border crossings as a “crisis,” would like the government to table a plan for resolving the situation. They went as far as tabling a motion in the House this week calling on the Liberals to do so.

But — in the classic style of opposition motions — the request for a plan was buried in text that would have had the government acknowledge its “failure to address the crisis” and “admit the Prime Minister’s irresponsibility of tweeting #WelcometoCanada to those seeking to enter Canada through illegal means.”

 

And so Liberal MPs declined to support the motion in a vote on Tuesday, and so Conservative MP Ted Falk stood in the House on Wednesday and lamented the prime minister’s refusal “to even commit to a plan.”

The Conservatives also charge that the irregular arrivals are “queue jumpers,” a description the government rejects.

The Liberals argue the Conservative and NDP proposals — respectively, to declare the entire border to be an official port of entry, or to unilaterally suspend Canada’s border agreement with the United States — are both irredeemably flawed. And the situation is certainly complicated, legally and practically.

But writing down and publishing a detailed plan could still be useful.

In the meantime, each side is warning the other about where all this might be headed.

‘The flames of fear and division’

“I recommend that my colleague choose his words carefully, because false information and incendiary rhetoric only fan the flames of fear and division,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Tuesday, scolding Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus.

“I’m worried that the dialogue in Canada is going to switch from ‘how we do immigration’ to ‘if we do immigration,’ ” Rempel told CBC radio’s As It Happens that same day.

On Wednesday, Trudeau said it was “completely irresponsible of the Conservatives to arouse fears and concerns about our immigration system and refugees.”

But Rempel contends that it’s the Liberals who could be inciting division.

“As someone who supports compassionate, planned, orderly migration, and sees it as a key to sustaining the Canadian economy over time when done properly, legally, and safely, I worry that by abdicating the responsibility to do this, it is actually the Liberal Party that is creating divisiveness in the country,” she told the House this week.

More than 6,000 people have crossed the Quebec border seeking asylum so far in 2018 and officials expect the surge to continue with the onset of warmer weather 7:34

Trudeau’s tweet and Trump’s edicts

Canada takes pride these days in not being the sort of place where such divisiveness dominates. But you don’t need to look far here to see how large-scale, unplanned immigration can trigger something ugly and destructive.

In the United States, migration has helped to inspire a nativist litany of grievances that is warping American politics. In Europe, it has helped to birth a new era of nationalism. All sides should be aware of the forces at play here.

However much the prime minister’s tweet on January 28, 2017 acted as a beacon to those seeking refuge, policy decisions in the United States are no doubt giving people good reasons to flee.

But that American approach isn’t likely to change soon. On Thursday, the Trump administration announced that 9,000 Nepalese immigrants will have to leave by June 2019. And even if Trudeau had never hashtagged a message of welcome to the world, the federal government would still bear the responsibility for managing the border.

Liberals can point to the emissaries they have dispatched to dissuade would-be travellers, but such efforts will be discounted if the rate of crossings doesn’t decline. The Trudeau government can point to the funding and resources it has committed to dealing with the new arrivals, but ultimately the Trudeau Liberals may find they have little room now to quibble with the premier of Quebec, or to suggest that it’s the province that should be doing more to accommodate asylum seekers.

If social services in Quebec are noticeably stretched, if immigration procedures bog down, if community tensions rise, Ottawa will be blamed.

Of course, all of this — the number of people crossing the border, the processing and integration of those people while they’re here, the language being used to talk about them — are ripe for political exploitation.

Responsible critics have a duty to avoid overstating the danger here. Responsible governments have a responsibility to limit the grounds for concern.

Source: The political debate over migrants hasn’t turned ugly yet – but it could

Refugees in Sicily: “Seven Minutes” Integration through fashion – Film teaser by our son

Our filmmaker son, Alex, shot this teaser for a short doc he is shooting in Sicily about a refugee from the Ivory Coast, Abdoulaye, and how his love for fashion helps him integrate into the local community.
Hope you enjoy it and find it as interesting as we did:
https://vimeo.com/262167627 Password: Partinico

Trudeau tweet caused influx of refugee inquiries, confusion within government, emails reveal

Not surprising. I can only imagine the internal conversations.

Of course, compared to Trump tweets, contradictions and reversals … (not intended as a benchmark):

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used Twitter to welcome refugees to Canada last winter, it prompted a spike in inquiries from would-be refugees to Canadian embassies abroad, and resulted in confusion within the federal government, newly released emails reveal.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” Trudeau said on Twitter Jan. 28, 2017, the day after Trump put out an executive order banning refugees and visitors from Muslim-majority countries Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

It was widely seen as a comment on Trump’s policy. To date the message has been retweeted over 400,000 times and liked more than 750,000 times. International commentators wondered whether Canada was announcing it would take in all those banned from entering the U.S. Some Canadian officials wondered about that too, according to records the National Post obtained through an access-to-information request.

Noting that Trudeau’s message had been picked up by the New York Times, an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada official anticipated in an email to colleagues, the same evening as the tweet, that “there will be more pressure” to respond the following day.

Two days later, officials stickhandling media requests were worrying about overloading spokespeople. “I’m sorry, I’m trying to figure out how not to max you out,” one said in an email.

In addition to requests from media there were queries from Canada’s own officials posted abroad. Concerns from the embassy in Mexico appear in an email chain with the subject line “Guidance required on how to respond to increasing number of refugee enquiries in the region following change in US administration and Prime Minister’s tweet.”

The first secretary and “risk assessment officer” at the embassy, whose name is redacted, sent an initial message on Feb. 1, 2017, four days after the tweet.

“I am seeking official guidance/response from Ottawa on how to address refugee enquiries following all the publicity around the US ban on some nationalities, and our Prime Minister’s tweet on welcoming refugees,” the email began.

“We are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from the public about requesting refugee status in Canada, and a number clearly having links with our Prime Minister’s tweet this weekend. A significant number of the enquiries received since the weekend have been from nationals of the ‘US banned countries’, but we are also receiving them from all nationalities, both through emails and directly at our reception.”

The first secretary went on to say that some of the requests had come from Cuban nationals, and that the mission in Costa Rica had been in touch to express concerns about inquiries being received there, too.

“In the current situation, other missions in our area of responsibilities are probably seeing the same thing happening and I think we need to liaise with them and provide formal guidance on how to address these enquiries given the Prime Minister’s tweet,” the official wrote. “A number of clients are asking if it is true that Canada will accept the refugees the US are rejecting, and what is the process to do so. … I would imagine that missions all around the world are seeing these enquiries increasing since the weekend.”

Much of the ensuing conversation — shared with nine Global Affairs Canada email accounts, another six from IRCC and a few that are blanked out — is redacted.

But it shows immigration officials responding with lengthy messages containing response lines developed to clarify Canada’s intentions after the tweet.

An IRCC official told diplomats on Feb. 2 that the lines, approved by the Privy Council Office, were also being shared with officials at the Canada Border Services Agency. The suggested response started with: “We are working with the United Nations Refugee Agency, U.S. officials and our missions abroad to clarify the current situation and determine what our next steps might be.”

Trudeau ultimately stood by the message in his tweet but began adding, during public appearances, that “there are steps to go through” to be considered a refugee. Canada did not change the number of refugees it would accept through resettlement programs. But Conservative politicians would go on to blame the tweet for encouraging an uptick in irregular crossings by asylum seekers at the Canada-U.S. border, particularly in Manitoba and Quebec.

Trump’s travel ban was met with widespread protest and challenged in court. After parts of the executive order were struck down, Trump twice reissued altered versions, both of which include the same list of countries minus Iraq. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of the latest iteration, issued in September, by June.

Source: Trudeau tweet caused influx of refugee inquiries, confusion within government, emails reveal