Falconer: Why Joe Biden should emulate Canada and go big on private refugee resettlement

Unlikely that it will happen given current polarization but agree with the potential:

As attention turns from the evacuation of Afghanistan to the arrival of refugees, U.S. President Joe Biden has an opportunity for large-scale engagement of the American public in a deeply personal fashion. 

If Canada’s history is any indicator, the capacity of private American citizens to resettle refugees is large and untapped. It may even bridge the divide over immigration in the United States.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saigon in 1975, some 130,000 Vietnamese refugees were lifted by sea and air to Guam and military bases in the southern United States. They were quickly resettled in the U.S., Canada and other countries, and were soon followed by an even larger exodus of refugees from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. 

Another three million refugees would flee these countries as communist regimes were consolidating power. Many fled on ramshackle boats where almost one in three were lost at sea. Others died of abuse and neglect in camps, where they were preyed upon by unfriendly governments. 

Despite the situation, the international community was slow to respond — only 8,500 refugees were resettled in the four years between the fall of Saigon and May 1979. In Canada, the government of Pierre Trudeau had committed to resettle 5,000 Indochinese refugees, but only 1,100 had arrived. Then, something remarkable happened.

Canada steps up

On the eve of a United Nations conference in Geneva to discuss the issue, Canada announced its intention to resettle 50,000 refugees by the end of 1980, which was just 18 months away. This would later be revised to 60,000. 

Just as astounding was its intention resettle half of these through its new private refugee sponsorship program. Canadians from all walks of life, from rural Manitoba to urban Toronto, could respond to the situation by volunteering their homes, funds and time to receive and resettle Indochinese refugees.

This announcement coincided with swelling Canadian support for refugee resettlement. In February 1979, 89 per cent of Canadians were opposed to inviting more refugees; only seven per cent wanted more. Within months, opposition had tumbled to 38 per cent, while 52 per cent supported increased resettlement. 

Groups ranging from churches to bowling clubs signed up to sponsor individuals and families, while kids sold lemonade at $50 a glass ($175 in 2021 dollars) to fund new arrivals. Rural townships called into Ottawa to ask when they would receive their family, and townhalls that had been convened to debate the topic of refugees turned into spontaneous sponsorship drives.

Pairing sponsors with refugees

In Ottawa, the government was busy matching sponsors to refugees. An enterprising policy officer drew inspiration from the Berlin Airlift to avoid overcrowding at arrival points. In the late 1940s during a Soviet blockade of Berlin, western allies flew continuous supplies to airports in Berlin. 

Thirty years later, the policy officer obtained one of Ottawa’s first computers that matched refugees to sponsors or immediately placed them in a government-assisted stream. This was aimed at ensuring the smooth transition of Indochinese refugees to their new homes.

Despite some hiccups, more than 80 per cent of eligible refugees were matched with sponsors before the planes landed, and by the end of 1980, all 60,000 had arrived. Adjusted to 2020 U.S. population terms, that’s an equivalent of almost 890,000 people resettled in just 18 months.

Subsequent generations of Canadians have responded with equal enthusiasm to new arrivals from the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Ethiopia and Syria, among others. Private sponsorship continues at a steady, moderate level during years between crises, spurred by cultural groups and family members of refugees, but when sudden large displacements capture public attention a large pool of first-time sponsors step forward. 

Roughly five per cent of the Canadian population has sponsored a refugee, while millions more have donated couches, cash or labour.

Bridging American divides

Perhaps this large constituency of people with experience resettling refugees is one explanation for positive Canadian attitudes towards immigration. If so, private refugee resettlement is a policy that could bridge American divides on migration. 

It would also fill the gap left by drastic cuts to the government-funded resettlement sector under the previous Donald Trump administration. Evidence suggests that those sponsored under a private resettlement program do just as well, if not better.

Contrary to their perceptions, polling suggests the answer is yes — support for resettling Afghan interpreters and other allies sits at around 81 per cent and is unusually consistent across party affiliation. 

Sixty-five per cent support expanding resettlement to other Afghans, and 61 per cent are in favour of hosting refugees in their home state.

While the U.S. State Department has announced its intention to start a private sponsorship program, its size or scope isn’t clear yet. Lessons from history teach us that a limited pilot program risks drastically under-utilizing the American capacity for resettlement.

Now is the time for Biden to ask the American people to invite homeless and war-ravaged Afghan refugees into their homes and their communities. Experience has taught us that, like the Statue of Liberty, many will raise their hand in enthusiastic response.

Source: https://theconversationcanada.cmail19.com/t/r-l-trjluyll-kyldjlthkt-a/

Alboim and Kohl: A post-election to-do list for the Afghan crisis

Good practical recommendations:

Now that the federal election is over, it’s time to make urgent policy decisions in response to the Afghan crisis. People remain in peril there and Canada needs to play its part domestically and on the international front.

Canadians worked side-by-side with Afghan nationals to improve security, democracy, human rights, women’s rights, girls’ education and a free press in Afghanistan. Canada has a moral obligation to help people who are now at risk. Even if there is no direct link to Canada, coming to the aid of people in danger is the humanitarian thing to do, the right thing to do. It’s what Canada does and has done well in other refugee crises.

Here’s our suggested to-do list of what government should tackle on an urgent basis.

Get people out
Canada should intensify its work with allies on the diplomatic front to encourage the Taliban to allow safe passage out of the country. Afghans with travel authorization to Canada can then leave the country. We should also continue to encourage and support neighbouring countries to keep their borders open to fleeing Afghans and allow Canadian immigration processing to take place in these countries of first asylum.

Increase government assisted refugees 
Prior to calling the election, the Liberals committed to the resettlement of up to 20,000 vulnerable Afghan nationals through two new programs. They have now doubled their commitment to 40,000. At least half of these should consist of government-assisted refugees. This will expedite arrivals and send a strong message to private sponsors that they are complementing, rather than replacing, government efforts.

Keep extended families together
Every effort should be made to keep extended families together when selecting refugees for resettlement to Canada. Where families have become separated, it is also important to enable and expedite mechanisms to reunite them. Many people living in dire circumstances, whether in Afghanistan or other countries, are ineligible under existing rules to be reunited with family members in Canada.

People in Canada can sponsor certain close family members, but they cannot sponsor others such as adult children or siblings. This creates an untenable situation. Afghans in Canada will have a hard time adapting to their new life when fraught with worry over relatives who are in peril abroad. Both groups will suffer without the mutual support that they can provide.

Pave the way for private sponsorship
Canadians are willing to pitch in but there are obstacles to private sponsorship. First, the lengthy processing times and backlogs must be reduced. Organizations that have sponsorship agreements with government are further hampered by caps on the number of refugees they can sponsor each year.

During the Syrian refugee crisis, the government allowed sponsors to exceed those caps. The same approach should be taken for Afghan refugees. Additionally, as Canada did with the Syrian crisis, privately sponsored Afghans should be deemed “prima facie” refugees without requiring a formal assessment by the United Nations Human Commissioner for Refugees or another state. This will allow groups that are not affiliated with agreement holders to play a strong role in private sponsorship.

Clarify the new humanitarian program 
The government has announced a promising new program to resettle vulnerable Afghan nationals who have managed to leave the country. This includes women leaders, human rights advocates, persecuted religious minorities, LGBTI individuals and journalists. The government needs to communicate how eligible people will be identified and what processes will be used for this program. Lists prepared by Canadian organizations, family members and others will be instrumental in identifying candidates.

Speed things up 
Afghan refugee claimants in Canada should be fast-tracked at the Immigration and Refugee Board, as has been done for groups from certain other world areas. We also need to expedite the transition to permanent residence for Afghans who entered the country on a temporary permit because they didn’t have the opportunity to complete their immigration processing overseas. Individuals on a temporary permit are not eligible for federal programs available to permanent residents, including income support and the sponsorship of family members.

Strengthen international aid 
We cannot forget that most vulnerable Afghans are unable to leave and that millions of Afghan refugees are hosted by neighbouring countries. This reality has existed for decades, exacerbated by the most recent crisis. Perhaps the most important task on the government’s to-do list is to increase humanitarian aid for organizations working on the ground in Afghanistan and neighbouring or nearby countries such as Pakistan and Turkey.

Achieving the items on this to-do list will require sustained government commitment, funding and staffing in Canada and abroad. If Canada can check off all of the boxes, we can be confident that we are doing our part in response to this international crisis.

Source: https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/october-2021/a-post-election-to-do-list-for-the-afghan-crisis/

Daphne Bramham: ‘Political Drano’ needed to unclog Canada’s refugee system

Of note:

Canada’s refugee system is in chaos, a victim of its own success and Canadians’ eagerness to help.

Even before Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, it struggled with a backlog of close to 65,000 refugees with permanent resident cards languishing in over-crowded United Nations camps and in countries eager to move them along.

Many are Syrians, who were promised a Canadian home during the 2015 federal election that resulted in an extraordinary effort to settle 25,000 within 100 days.

Also among those waiting are people on Canada’s priority list to help — torture victims, members of persecuted minority groups, people with disabilities, single mothers, and unaccompanied minors.

Afghanistan’s rapid descent has bumped their arrival here even further back, making what was an untenable situation worse. The only solution to unclogging it is “political Drano,” says Chris Friesen.

Friesen is the chief operating officer of Immigrant Services Society of B.C. who helped coordinate Operation Syria in 2015. He says that, as difficult as that was, “this is much worse.”

What he means by political Drano is not just an immediate infusion of money for the processing and settlement of Afghans. It’s more money to fulfill promises of safe haven already made.

It means enhancing the highly successful Group of Five program where citizens can privately sponsor and support the full cost for refugee families’ resettlement for the first year, including rent, shelter, transportation, spending money, food, clothing and household essentials.

There are so many applications already in that queue that — like the refugee queue itself — Friesen said it would take “upwards of two years” for an application filed today to sponsor an Afghan family to make it to the top of the pile.

Like health-care during a pandemic, refugees are triaged. And, right now, few people are at more risk than Afghan human rights activists, judges, journalists and translators who worked with the Canadian military. They are being hunted by the Taliban doing door-to-door searches.

So far, the Canadian response has been muddied because of the federal election.

The immigration minister is still able to sign special permits for Afghans to use as exit visas, but it was impossible for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to get extra money to match the Liberals’ campaign promise to evacuate and settle 20,000 Afghans. The resources have had to come from other programs.

Emergency evacuations have unique problems and costs. Normally, refugees are screened by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees before joining the queue for Canada. Even before now, the Canadian process was taking up to two years, with some of that due to COVID restrictions.

There has been no time for that process now. Instead, Afghans are fleeing using special permits issued on the recommendations of various trusted sources and being processed for permanent residency in hotels in Toronto and Calgary, while they quarantine for two weeks under pandemic protocols.

But even that has had unforeseen problems. A measles outbreak was discovered when the first group of Calgary-bound Afghans landed in the United States. They are now quarantined for 28 days and will have to quarantine another 14 days when they get to Canada.

“It’s all very intense,” said Friesen.

On any given day, there is no way to know when, let alone how many, Afghans might arrive. Some come on government-sponsored flights, while others arrive with the help of non-profit groups. 

No targets have been set for how many will go to each province. The working assumption is that it will follow the traditional patterns. For B.C., that’s 10 per cent of the total. But, as of this week, only 78 families and 300 individuals will have arrived.

The intense public glare is adding another layer of stress for those on the front lines. Public interest was high with the Syrians, but Friesen said interest in the Afghans is “astronomical”.

After 20 years of civil society engagement with Afghanistan, Canadians have made personal connections with the country and its people. They have engaged through non-profit groups supporting women, building schools and libraries, as well as through international professional organizations.

As well, deep loyalties were forged with Afghans who helped journalists and soldiers during Canada’s nearly 15 years of military presence. Plus, there are close to 125,000 Afghan-Canadians.

Many of these Canadians have been fielding desperate pleas for help from their friends and colleagues. In turn, they are asking what the government is doing to help.

Among the loudest voices are some of Canada’s 40,000 veterans — 540 live here, including the founders of Veterans Transition Network. It is raising money to shelter and support Afghan interpreters and their families as they await evacuation.

That is in addition to its ongoing work supporting veterans — some of whom already have post-traumatic stress that may have been triggered by the Taliban’s resurgence.

Every day, already over-stretched staff of settlement services across the country and at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada are diverted from their primary roles to field calls from corporations and individuals offering help.

It is more than most can deal with since among the things that IRCC hasn’t been able to do is hire more staff or provide money for the provincial welcome centres.

For now, Friesen said what ISSofBC urgently needs is help finding affordable housing so that refugee families already here can move out of its Welcome House to make room for new arrivals.

It all sounds like a dreadful mess until you realize that what is driving it is something quite rare and precious — Canadians’ desire to be good global citizens and provide safe haven to desperate strangers.

It is goodwill that could easily be frustrated and squandered unless the government acts quickly to unclog the pipeline. And that can only happen with both strong leadership and cooperation within the new minority parliament.

Source: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjoyvvN757zAhVDtTEKHU22CK4QFnoECAIQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fvancouversun.com%2Fnews%2Fdaphne-bramham-political-drano-needed-to-unclog-canadas-refugee-system&usg=AOvVaw03EOafEVuCfVr5H-M_VvkB

Ambrose and Cotler: Bureaucratic barriers are making life even harder for Canada’s allies in Afghanistan

Good bipartisan commentaryÈ

Make no mistake, the Taliban are in control of Afghanistan. Their swift return and seizure of power caught all of us off guard. Afghans who bravely served Canada now find themselves at great risk.

Their lives, and those of their families, are under constant threat of Taliban reprisals. Vulnerable Afghans, including female leaders, human-rights defenders, journalists, persecuted religious minorities and members of the LGBTQ+ community, have been abandoned in a country where they are now completely marginalized and must hide once again from an old enemy.

For the interpreters and their immediate family members who came to Canada under special immigration measures between 2009 and 2011, this remains a crisis. These Canadian citizens are desperate to help the extended families they left behind, knowing that they will continue to be actively targeted because of who they are related to. Shall we wait until disaster befalls before we hasten our efforts to evacuate these deserving Afghans?

Like many Western countries that rushed to get people out, Canada did its part, evacuating 3,700 people at risk. The door was open, briefly; now it is firmly shut. Those left behind are pleading for us to honour our commitments. They believe that Canada is a just and compassionate country, with a free and open society – at least, that is what we told them when we first came asking for their help. All is not lost. We can still live up to that ideal, but we have to act fast as lives hang in the balance.

Various charitable and volunteer groups have rallied behind the government of Canada’s efforts to evacuate and resettle the maximum number of eligible Afghans. We call on the government to fund these groups that help keep these people and their families safe. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) should simultaneously accelerate the vetting process in partnership with these groups. While we wait for borders to open, we need to protect these people through the continued provision of support inside the country and the issuance by IRCC of documentation proving their official link to Canada. The very act of this recognition is a lifeline and protected pathway out of Afghanistan.

For vulnerable Afghans, the Canadian government needs to allow visa applications from inside Afghanistan. We must not force people to needlessly risk their lives any further on unnecessary and illegal border crossings in the hope that a Canadian embassy or high commission will process their applications in another country, such as Uzbekistan or Pakistan.

We also need to honour our promises to the interpreters who have already resettled in Canada and are fellow citizens. By extending special immigration measures to the extended family members who remain in Afghanistan, we can remove them from harm’s way and make good on our promises.

Most importantly, we must recognize that there is no playbook for this. Blind adherence to policy and inflexibility to change it, despite the challenging situation on the ground, runs counter to the urgency of doing the right thing. It is a cruel reality that those left behind are facing. Canada must remove the barriers that our own policies present. We need to get the proper documentation to these people so we can get them out quickly and safely when the borders open to the world.

Despite the federal election, all parties must stand behind these initiatives. This is not about politics, not about who is right and who is wrong. It is about honouring the commitments we made to the people of Afghanistan and those who served our interests there. Only then will we be able to live up to our belief that Canada is a force for good in the world.

Rona Ambrose, the former leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, is deputy chairwoman of TD Securities. Irwin Cotler, the former Liberal minister of justice and attorney-general, is the international chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-bureaucratic-barriers-are-making-life-even-harder-for-canadas-allies/

UK: How have Priti Patel’s previous pledges on immigration fared?

Of note (somewhat comparable issues with respect to calls to close the Canada-USA Safe Third Country Agreement “loophole” for asylum seekers between official points of entry):

The viability of Thursday’s announcement by Priti Patel that small boats carrying migrants across the Channel will be turned back to France by Border Force officials has been questioned by politicians on all sides, and by the immigration services union, lawyers and human rights organisations.

So it may be that its chances of actually being put into practice are slim. Here is a quick guide to what happened after previous high-profile announcements by the home secretary.

Small boat arrivals

In October 2019 Patel pledged to halve migrant crossings by the end of that month – at that time there had been more than 1,400 people crossing in small boats since the beginning of 2019. So far in 2021, 13,500 migrants have crossed the Channel, including 1,000 in the past two days.

The statement from the home secretary about turning small boats back mid-Channel crossing was not an official Home Office announcement. It is not clear whether or not a published policy will emerge.

Toufique Hossain, director of public law at Duncan Lewis solicitors, said: “It is difficult to see a legal basis for what is effectively collective expulsion. The desperate need to look tough on immigration may lead to unlawful and dangerous consequences.”

Offshoring asylum seekers

Reports emerged in June this year that the new immigration bill would include plans to hold asylum seekers in processing centres outside the UK. It is understood that officials working for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office were tasked with exploring whether any other country would be receptive to accommodating asylum seekers who had sought sanctuary in the UK while their claims were processed. Australia adopted this controversial system in 2001 and Denmark has passed legislation enabling it to do the same. Countries such as Rwanda, along with Ascension Island and disused oil rigs, were mooted. Installing giant wave machines in the Channel was also mentioned in media briefings last October. Since then no more has been heard about these plans.

Sending small boat arrivals who passed through safe European countries back there

This was promised after the conclusion of the Brexit transition period at the end of 2020. But nobody has yet been sent back. The Home Office said that this category of asylum claims would be ruled inadmissible. According to Migration Observatory evidence this week to the joint committee on human rights, 4,500 notices of intent have been served since the start of 2021 relating to cases that may be considered inadmissible. But so far only seven cases have been declared as such and nobody has so far been returned to a European country post-Brexit.

Increased number of deportations

Deportations and enforced removals have declined year on year since 2012, with 3,300 enforced returns in 2020, 54% fewer than in 2019. While the sharp drop last year can be partly attributed to Covid, the steady year-on-year reduction cannot. The Home Office says the reduction is partly due to some of those in detention prior to deportation raising “issues”.

Tougher provisions in new immigration bill

The nationality & borders bill itself is subject to a legal challenge questioning the lawfulness of the consultation process. Even some of the Home Office’s key contractors such as the charity Migrant Help, which operates a helpline on behalf of the Home Office for asylum seekers, have been critical of the new bill, saying they believe it will damage the UK’s reputation as a world leader in its approach to human rights and social responsibility.

Source: How have Priti Patel’s previous pledges on immigration fared?

Alboim and Cohl: Ordinary Canadians can help Afghans settle successfully in our communities

Useful recommendations and call for support:

The planes are arriving. They are bringing to Canada people who fear retribution, oppression or death from the Taliban, now firmly in control of Afghanistan. These arrivals are part of the federal government’s commitment to resettle vulnerable Afghan nationals. Officials estimate this will include 6,000 people from within Afghanistan and 15,000 who have managed to flee the country. With minimal opportunities for people to make it safely to the Kabul airport, let alone get on a plane, and with borders to neighbouring countries closed, Canada may be hard pressed to reach these numbers quickly. The reality is that many Afghans are trapped in their landlocked country, unable to escape by land, sea or air.

The immediate priority must be to get vulnerable people out of Afghanistan, whether they are at risk for having helped the Canadian government or for their human rights advocacy. Women leaders are particularly vulnerable and urgently need help to exit the country. But this cannot be our sole focus. We must also create systems to help Afghan refugees to settle successfully in our communities. In this regard, there is much to learn from previous crises where Canada welcomed large numbers of refugees.

Although every refugee movement requires tailored solutions to address unique circumstances, Canada’s success with Indochinese refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (after the fall of Saigon in 1975) and Syrian refugees (after the civil war began in 2011) is particularly instructive. An overarching lesson from these two movements is that the involvement of ordinary Canadians – in addition to governments, the private sector, and civil society organizations – can have a huge and positive impact.

One way that members of the public and civil society organizations make a difference is by being vocal about their support for a strong government response. In 2015, public outrage and concern helped to make Syrian refugees a federal election issue, garnering strong commitments from all political parties. An initial target of resettling 1,300 Syrian refugees, set by the Conservative government in 2013, became 25,000 after the Liberals came to power two years later.

Iconic photos of capsized boats and a young child who didn’t survive the journey were factors in galvanizing Canadian support in the past. Heart-wrenching images emerging from the Kabul airport could potentially have a similar effect. Canadians may feel especially motivated to help the two categories the federal government has prioritized: people who helped the Government of Canada, and those who fought for human rights and democracy, principles highly valued in Canada. These individuals and their extended families are clearly in grave danger.

While many potential refugees remain trapped in Afghanistan, those who fled to other countries before the Taliban took control are eligible for private sponsorship. The people being airlifted directly from Kabul and arriving in Canada as government assisted refugees could also benefit from being matched with groups interested in private sponsorship. This would give those refugees the benefit of the personal relationships, networks and cross-cultural connections that privately sponsored refugees typically enjoy.

For such approaches to work, authorization for sponsorship agreement holders to help Afghan refugees will need to be above and beyond any existing caps. And the lists of persons and families at risk being compiled by veterans, human rights groups, Afghan organizations, and family members in Canada should be consolidated to assist in the matching process. Private sponsorship would also be enhanced by creating a community organization modelled after Operation Lifeline and Lifeline Syria, which formed during the Indochinese and Syrian crises respectively to train sponsors and match them to refugees. Now is the time to create Lifeline Afghanistan with the leadership of Canadian Afghan organizations, like the Afghan Women’s Organization, working closely with other civil society organizations.

Another lesson from previous refugee movements is that Canada’s commitment must be long-term. The dangers abroad do not stop once Canada has reached its initial target for refugees, and the need for reunification with extended family members can take many years to resolve. Canada is still accepting Syrian refugees, although considerable frustration exists due to lengthy processing lags now that this movement is no longer a top priority.

Canada has responded to refugee crises before and we can do it again. We have the infrastructure on the ground, a robust settlement sector, an engaged Afghan community, and above all a Canadian public with a history of coming forward to do their part. We are in the middle of another federal election. It is time to speak up.

Naomi Alboim is the senior policy fellow at the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration at Ryerson University and was actively involved in the Indochinese and Syrian refugee movements. Karen Cohl is a consultant specializing in access to justice and immigration policy issues.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-ordinary-canadians-can-help-afghans-settle-successfully-in-our/

Political Storm Swirls Around Britain’s Refugee Surge

Of note:

Some held their hands aloft in celebration; others simply slumped to the ground in the 24°C heat, exhausted from the ordeal they’d just endured.

That was the scene on the south coast of England this week, when at least 430 migrants — including infants too young to walk — made landfall. They had braved the 20-mile crossing from either France or Belgium, navigating the world’s busiest shipping lane aboard flimsy inflatable boats.

Meanwhile, 70 miles away in Westminster, the fate of those who’ll arrive in the months and years ahead was being aired, as UK lawmakers debated the government’s planned reform of refugee policy.

Undocumented migration is a convulsive political issue in post-Brexit Britain. Departure from Europe was sold as a chance to buttress the country’s creaking borders — yet, since the start of the year, some 8,000 people have reached British soil with the help of boat-borne smugglers. Monday’s surge represented the highest number of arrivals on record, with 2020’s total of 8,417 likely to be topped in the coming weeks.

Addressing this is the job of UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, a divisive politician who’s pinned her reputation on stemming the flow of refugees.

She is the brains behind the ‘Nationality and Borders Bill’ — legislation that will make it a criminal offence to enter the country without permission, with a penalty of up to four years in prison. It also raises the prospect of a new overseas detention scheme, in which asylum-seekers could be sent to a “safe third country” while their claims are considered. Thus far, no third-party nation has agreed to participate.

It would be a firm but fair system, Patel says, designed to deter vulnerable people from placing their lives in the hands of unscrupulous traffickers. Instead of crossing to the UK, asylum applications should be made wherever in Europe refugees first find themselves, the government argues.

It’s a legally dubious position. Though, under European law, migrants should have their claims processed in the jurisdiction of their arrival, the 1951 UN Refugee Convention makes clear that asylum-seekers must face no legal discrimination, and suggests that their unlawful entry to a country shouldn’t result in prosecution.

And there’s another, more human consideration that critics say must be accounted for: that no amount of securitisation will deter needy people enticed by the UK’s reputation for defending human rights, offering legal protection to those in direst need, upholding the rule of law, and celebrating — not condemning — multiculturalism .

That is why migrants have always been drawn to British shores, often in far, far greater numbers than those seen today. (Arrivals topped 100,000 per year in the early 2000s).

The difference now, partly thanks to COVID-19 shutting rail and road migration routes, is that their arrival is a more visible, maritime spectacle. Headlines are hard for politicians, but photos of foreigners wading ashore is a whole different level. Coupled with a bureaucratic meltdown at the Home Office — the number of asylum-seekers awaiting a decision has doubled since 2014 — it’s little surprise the British government is coming down hard.

The truth, however, is that the UK’s refugee situation is far less onerous than it is for its nearest neighbours. Britain ranks 17th out of 28 European countries in terms of asylum applications, with around a third of those confronting authorities in France and Germany.

Such stats obscure the human story. That every one is a person, often vulnerable and fleeing persecution or poverty, willing to risk it all for a better, brighter future.

Source: Political Storm Swirls Around Britain’s Refugee Surge

As Canada eases COVID-19 border restrictions, advocates say refugees’ travel is ‘essential’

Covid-19 immigration effects - Key Slides - May 2021 Draft.017On the good news side, the IRB backlog declined dramatically, with new claims falling by 68% and the backlog by 30%.

The progressive reduction in travel restrictions and requirements should allow for a more normal flow, with less concern for the irregular arrivals at non-official border posts given the Biden Administration’s approach:

Thanks to COVID-19 outbreaks in jails, immigration detainee Apollinaire Nduwimana was released from a U.S. prison in late April last year, after being held among convicted criminals for almost three years.

The asylum seeker from Burundi tried to head north for protection at Roxham Road in Quebec last October. But he didn’t know Canada had closed the border to refugees.

He was immediately intercepted, sent back to America and detained at the Clinton jail in Pennsylvania. He was threatened with deportation to his homeland despite assurances from Ottawa to let him return once COVID travel restrictions were lifted.

As of July, Nduwimana was one of 450 asylum seekers “directed back” to the U.S. since March 21, 2020, when Ottawa closed the border to non-essential travels. Although there have been exemptions, seeking asylum isn’t one of them.

With Ottawa slowly easing its travel restrictions, and border rules with the U.S. up for renewal on Wednesday, advocates say the federal government’s first order of business should be reopening the door to asylum seekers and sponsored refugees, the most vulnerable migrant group during the pandemic.

“Refugee travel is essential, we know that no one chooses to be a refugee,” said Maureen Silcoff, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. “Refugees can in fact enter and quarantine. So that really should have been the starting point.”

According to the latest UN Refugee Agency report, 1.5 million fewer people fled their homelands in 2020 than forecast, but the world’s displaced population still edged to a record 82.4 million by the end of last year, up from 79.5 million in 2019.

That’s because, it said, asylum seekers were unable to cross borders, with 164 countries imposing travel bans, and 99 states, including Canada, making no exception for people seeking asylum.

In total, only 34,400 refugees were resettled to third countries in 2020, down 69 per cent from 107,800 the year before. Today, 1.4 million refugees are awaiting resettlement.

Amid the chaos, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada is the rare beneficiary of the border closure.

Last year, the number of new claims fell 68 per cent to 18,500, from 58,378 in 2019. These were mostly from those within Canada who entered legally and later decided to seek asylum, or who came to the border before the lockdown or belonged to one of the exemption groups.

The slowdown allowed the board to reduce its backlog, which fell 30 per cent to 65,000 by the end of June, from 91,300 in March 2020, as refugee judges moved hearings online and adapted to new health protocols in offices.

Nduwimana first arrived in the U.S. for asylum in 2017 but was detained until his release in April 2020.

Thanks to interventions of advocates on either side of the border, he is one of nine asylum seekers who have been issued a “national interest exemption letter” to return to Canada on a later date after he was turned back at the border.

But it’s not without hassles because there are no bilateral policies to ensure these “direct-back” asylum seekers will be released from detention or spared from deportation to come back to the border.

“I am not a criminal but I was detained with people convicted of murder and rape,” said Nduwimana, 41, who fled political persecution in Burundi, an East African country where human rights violations are such that Canada suspends all removals to that country.

“Canada has the obligation to protect asylum seekers. Instead they sent me back to a country that’s not safe for refugees,” added the former church pastor and university language instructor, who almost got deported in January before a U.S. court intervened.

Upon his release in March from another jail in upstate New York, he entered Canada at Fort Erie and had his 14-day mandatory quarantine at a Niagara hotel. He is now awaiting his proceedings.

Silcoff said Nduwimana’s case shows refugee travel can coexist with public health measures and the current refugee ban can be lifted.

Despite public fear that Canada would see another surge of asylum seekers once the border reopens, Silcoff believed that’s unlikely under the new White House administration. Since Joe Biden became president in January, Washington has reversed many Trump-era anti-migrant, anti-refugee policies.

Temporary protected status has been granted to migrants currently in the U.S. from major refugee source countries such as Haiti, Venezuela and Yemen. In June, the U.S. restored the possibility of asylum protections for women fleeing domestic violence in other countries as well as for families targeted by violent gangs.

“It’s a different climate,” said Silcoff. “It’s hard to know what the future would bring but we know that Canada is able to handle fluctuations in numbers of asylum seekers.”

During the pandemic, Ottawa has also rolled out several measures that involved asylum seekers and failed refugees in Canada, such as releasing immigration detainees with less serious immigration violations and suspending deportations at the peak of the pandemic.

Another positive during this global public health crisis is the special program that grants permanent residence to asylum seekers who work in health care and essential jobs during the pandemic, said Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

“So there have been some good parts,” she said.

In June, the immigration department also announced plans to expedite the processing of permanent residence applications of people who have been granted asylum in Canada, with a new target of 45,000, up from 23,500.

That commitment will help someone like Mohammed Jadallah, who fled to Canada for asylum from Gaza via the U.S. in 2018 and has since been separated from his wife and five children.

When war erupted between Hamas militants in Gaza and Israel earlier this year, with bombs raining down on his homeland, the 41-year-old Toronto man could only console his family helplessly from afar, on a computer screen.

Although he was granted protected status in Canada in October and immediately applied for permanent residence, the process was set to take an average of 39 months.

“There was an airstrike in our neighbourhood in Rimal. The building that’s just 200 metres from ours was flattened,” said Jadallah, a rebar detailer, whose family struggles with food and fuel shortages.

“As a parent, you try to protect your children. It’s so hard when you can’t do nothing for them.”

Until he receives his permanent residence, Samaa, 37, and their children — Nidal, 15; Asil, 12; Mustafa; 9, Ali, 8; and Yusuf, 5 — cannot join him in Canada.

Dench said that speaks to the need to do away the bureaucracy that requires accepted refugees to go through all the hoops to apply for permanent residence.

“It will cost us less if we give them permanent residence more quickly because then it makes it easier for them to upgrade their skills and to reunite with their family and to contribute more fully,” she said. “If you’ve been vetted and accepted as a refugee, you should be automatically a permanent resident.”

During the pandemic, the resettlement of overseas refugees in Canada has also come to a halt due to border closures and the reduced processing capacity by the International Organization for Migration, the UN and local Canadian visa posts — except for the most vulnerable who require emergency resettlement.

As of the end of October, only 2,879 resettled refugees landed in Canada since March 18, 2020, including 1,603 sponsored by community groups, 1,262 by the federal government, and 14 through a joint public and private sponsorships. Another 40 arrived under the “urgent protection” program.

In 2021, Ottawa has set a target to bring in 36,000 sponsored refugees, but only 1,630 had arrived by the end of April, according to a report by Reuters. Last year, the target was 31,700 but only 9,200 made it, leaving 22,500 spots unfilled.

Critics ask: Will Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino allow the unused spots to carry over in coming years when international travel is back to normal?

“It’s 65,000 who are in the queue essentially, who are waiting to travel,” said Brian Dyck, national migration and resettlement program co-ordinator of the Mennonite Central Committee Canada. “And that queue has never been longer than now. Their applications are going in but there are none that are going out.”

Those who managed to come during the pandemic, he said, had their proof of permanent residence in hand on or before March 18, 2020.

While the task to bring in a huge number of sponsored refugees in a short time appears daunting, Dyck said that’s doable, as shown in how Canada and Canadians successfully brought in 25,000 Syrian refugees in a matter of months in 2015 and early 2016.

“I think that the government has learned how to use a variety of networks to process sponsorship applications in different ways,” he noted..

And there’s been no shortage of public support during the pandemic, said Dyck, whose office has continued to receive a lot of inquiries from people looking to sponsor refugees even without promoting the idea.

Torontonian Marika Elek and her sponsorship group, Beach Cares, submitted a private sponsorship application in January to bring a Syrian family of five to Canada from Lebanon.

“I remember what happened in 2015 and 2016 when there was a real surge of refugees coming in, and people managed to handle that,” said Elek, whose family was sponsored here by the Canadian government in 1957 from Hungary when she was a girl.

During the pandemic, she and some 350 sponsors got together online and officially launched The Private Refugee Sponsor Network to “connect, learn and share” information and provide free training to help each other problem-solve in anticipation of the border reopening.

“We have people who are ready to welcome them.”

Source: As Canada eases COVID-19 border restrictions, advocates say refugees’ travel is ‘essential’

Home Office ‘acting unlawfully’ in rush to deport asylum seekers

Yet again:

Hundreds of people arriving in England in small boats are being immediately detained in immigration removal centres, raising fears of a new, secret Home Office policy to deport them without their asylum claims being properly considered.

Among the detainees are apparent trafficking and torture victims from countries including Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, who would normally be allowed asylum accommodation in the community while their claims are processed but instead are effectively imprisoned.

Children are also among those who have crossed the Channel and have been sent directly to immigration removal centres, with solicitors claiming the Home Office has classed minors as adults despite not age-assessing them in person.

Some small-boat asylum seekers have been denied access to a lawyer since early May after landing and being immediately detained in a removal centre.

Campaigners said the development was “not the act of a civilised and compassionate nation”.

The outcry follows the publication of home secretary Priti Patel’s nationality and borders bill on Tuesday. It claims to reform the asylum system but has been described by the UN as having an “almost neocolonial approach” in allowing the UK to shirk its international responsibilities to refugees.

Immigration lawyers say the apparent undisclosed policy change, which appears to have been introduced over the past two months, is unlawful and they are preparing to challenge it.

Toufique Hossain, director of public law and immigration at Duncan Lewis, described it as a potentially “grave abuse of power”.

Hossain added: “They have effectively started bypassing the asylum system and saying to individuals with strong claims that their claim is weak, that they may not get an appeal and that they intend to remove them quickly.

“The whole starting point is to disbelieve people arriving from places where the Home Office knows individuals have a well-founded fear of harm and persecution.”

The shift appears to have affected hundreds already, with Duncan Lewis receiving reports that the UK’s network of immigration removal centres is overwhelmed.

Harmondsworth removal centre near Heathrow airport – whose capacity is 670 – is understood to be “overwhelmed”. The Home Office is also filling Brook House at Gatwick airport and Colnbrook, near Heathrow – combined capacity 850 – with small boat arrivals.

“Detention centres are being filled with people who have just arrived but who are not being released into the community,” said Tom Nunn of Duncan Lewis.

He added they are aware of more than 50 Vietnamese nationals, a country which is one of the top sources for trafficking into the UK.

In addition, there is speculation that the Home Office has chartered a deportation flight to Vietnam at the end of July for small boat arrivals, although the government would not confirm this.

Nunn said the firm was aware of Iraqis and Afghans who had indicators of torture, but whom the Home Office had apparently detained in contravention of the established asylum process.

“There have been a few cases where medical advice from doctors in the immigration centre is that they are victims of torture,” said Nunn. “But we are seeing a lot of cases where the Home Office is pushing back on this, basically saying that: ‘You’re a victim of torture but we believe we can remove you quickly and therefore we’ll keep you in detention.”

Clare Moseley of charity Care4Calais said: “To detain and deport such vulnerable people in this way is not the act of a civilised and compassionate nation. If we fail to ensure that those who need our help are treated in a fair and decent manner we risk losing our reputation as a decent and honest society.”

Usually asylum seekers are placed in special accommodation while their claims are heard, a process that can often take longer than a year. Currently there is a record backlog of 109,000 cases in the system with over 79,000 being processed for more than a year.

This is not the first time that the Home Office appears to have quietly introduced measures that reduce the rights and protection of asylum seekers.

Last year the Home Office secretly shortened asylum screening interviews for arrivals in the UK, a move that meant torture and trafficking victims could be deported far more quickly.

Last week, however, the high court ruled that Patel should quickly bring back to the UK a small boat asylum seeker and Sudanese torture survivor who was removed to France.

The 38-year-old was tracked down by Liberty Investigates and the Observer in an investigation whose evidence paved the way for last week’s government defeat.

Called Omar in the investigation, he had nine of the 11 indicators of trafficking and torture yet was deported to France last August after just two months in the UK.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We assess the suitability of all new arrivals and only detain people when there is a realistic prospect of their removal within a reasonable timescale, and evidence of their vulnerability is outweighed by immigration considerations.

“It is inaccurate to say unaccompanied minors are being classed as adults during age assessment interviews. The Home Office makes every effort to ensure people’s age is assessed correctly, in the interests of safeguarding and to avoid abuse of the system.”

They added that the government would “crack down on illegal entry and the criminality associated with it”.

The spokesperson said: “People should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in and we must ensure dangerous journeys are not incentivised.”

Source: Home Office ‘acting unlawfully’ in rush to deport asylum seekers

Adams and Neuman: Private sponsorship is much more than a feel-good project

Good piece:

As we mark World Refugee Day on June 20, new numbers from the United Nations Refugee Agency show that there are now more than 82 million people worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes, and half of them are children. These displaced peoples are fleeing conflict, persecution, human rights violations and violence, seeking a safe haven in countries that all too often fail to welcome such newcomers. Canada – because of its geography – has been largely insulated from this international migration crisis. But in 2015-16, the country stepped up to welcome more than 33,000 refugees fleeing the war in Syria.

The federal government largely controls and manages the flow of immigration, but the most notable part of the Syrian refugee story was how individual Canadians and community organizations (churches, synagogues, NGOs) came forward to privately sponsor roughly half of the refugee quota to be filled. Private sponsorship groups commit to providing financial and social support to the refugee, and to help them find a place to live. This recent civil society mobilization mirrored an earlier one in the late 1970s that brought 70,000 Vietnamese refugees to Canada.

Few in this country appreciate the fact that private sponsorship of refugees is a Canadian innovation, and a model that is now being emulated in other countries such as Ireland, Britain and Germany. Until very recently, only in Canada was it possible for individuals and non-governmental organizations to sponsor refugees; and not just family members living abroad, but also those with whom the sponsors have no prior connection or relationship (often described as “welcoming the stranger”).

Given the immense scale of the continuing migration crisis, perhaps we are kidding ourselves that taking in 10,000 or 20,000 refugees a year makes an important difference. But the value and importance of this effort is not so much in the numbers as in its impact on those affected and on the country as a whole. Canadians from coast to coast, in large cities and small towns, organized and raised funds to bring individuals and families out of danger and help them start new lives. Statistics Canada research has shown that privately sponsored refugees have higher employment rates and earn more money than government sponsored refugees.

A newly released survey by our Environics Institute for Survey Research (conducted in partnership with Refugee 613) estimates that about 4 per cent of our country’s population ages 25 and older have been involved in sponsoring refugees in the past five years, whether through a faith-based or civil society organization, or with a group of friends. This translates into more than 1.5 million Canadians volunteering their time and effort in realizing the aspirational values of inclusion and welcoming that we like to think typify our country. Those who get involved in refugee sponsorship often find the experience to be personally rewarding in ways they never imagined, and may deepen their sense of citizenship.

And we also find there is considerable potential for much broader participation. Our research shows that another four million Canadians would consider getting involved in helping to sponsor refugees. This level of interest is striking given that private refugee sponsorship has never been actively promoted or marketed to the broader population at a regional or national level. To date, most of the people involved in “welcoming the stranger” sponsorship have been recruited through personal networks (faith-based organizations, universities) and tend to be white, highly educated and retired. But our research indicates the interest and capacity to get involved in refugee sponsorship is much more widely distributed across the Canadian public. Such interest is driven in part by being aware of the presence of refugees in one’s own community, as well as knowing others who have already become involved.

But private refugee sponsorship is much more than a feel-good community project. It is creating new Canadians of the very best sort. People who arrive as refugees must rebuild their lives, and with support from both government assistance and private sponsors, they are making impressive progress to establish themselves in their host communities. In another study recently completed by our institute, we found that the vast majority of Syrians who arrived in 2015-16 are adapting well to their new lives in Canada in terms of language acquisition, employment and creating opportunities for their children. They are very happy to be in Canada (in spite of the weather), generally feel welcomed and have life aspirations most of us would share. These newcomers embrace the value Canadians place on hard work and tolerance. And now that they are here, only 3 per cent hope to one day leave Canada for another country.

Canada is seen by much of the world as an open and welcoming society. We know this reputation is not fully earned as we continue to confront discrimination, racism and fear of the “other” in our communities. But as we strive to do better, let us also celebrate the good work that many Canadians are doing to welcome new strangers to our shores, and consider getting involved. Doing so is a unique privilege of the Canadian citizenship others envy.

Keith Neuman is a senior associate with the non-profit Environics Institute for Survey Research. Michael Adams is the Institute’s founder and president.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-private-sponsorship-could-be-used-to-help-many-more-refugees/