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No refuge, conditional home for refugees in Canada

Exclusionary policies result in fifty percent decrease in refugee claims and thirty percent drop in refugee claim acceptances.

Refugees: Sweeping exclusions have resulted in a 50 percent decrease in the number of refugee claims and a 30 percent drop in the number of accepted refugees. Many refugees are contending with reduced legal avenues, mandatory incarceration for them and their children, a two-tier system that discriminates based on nationality, and lack of access to adequate healthcare and social assistance. If they do manage to be accepted as refugees, their refugee status is conditional.

Due to indiscriminate restrictions implemented by the federal government, the number of refugee claims decreased by 50 percent and the number of accepted refugees dropped by 30 percent between 2006 and 2012. Tshegofatso Kgang, for example, is a 42-year-old mother of three and survivor of domestic violence from Botswana who was found not to be in need of refugee protection. Immigration and Refugee Board member Michael Sterlin believed she was not credible, claiming that “If the claimant were truly beaten some 100 times in 10 months, then she would have reported her husband to the police, tried to take shelter, or do something to put herself out of harm’s way.”

Between 2010 & 2014, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that Canada dropped from fifth to fifteenth in the list of refugee-receiving industrialized countries.

In 2010, there were 8,466 Pre-Removal Risk Assessment applications made by asylum-seekers facing removal orders. Only 89 applications were approved to remain in Canada. Between 2010 and 2014, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that Canada dropped from fifth to fifteenth in the list of refugee-receiving industrialized countries. Industrialized countries only receive 14 percent of the world’s total refugee population.

The government also imposed visa requirements targeting refugee claimants from Mexico and the Czech Republic by suggesting they are “bogus” and “system-abusers.” A Roma refugee, Zaneta Dunova, argued in Federal Court that the Immigration Minister’s public comments about Roma as “bogus” refugee claimants have unfairly and negatively prejudiced immigration officers against Roma refugees. The Tories also appointed an infamous anti-gay evangelical, Doug Cryer, to the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Exclusionary polices result in fifty percent decrease in refugee claims and thirty percent drop in refugee claim acceptances in Canada.

Refugee Exclusion Act

As a result of the wide-ranging “Refugee Exclusion Act” (Bill C-31, officially known as Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act), refugees now contend with a whole new — and far more exclusionary — refugee system:

  • Shorter timelines: All refugee claimants now face very short timelines to present their claims, including those held in immigration detention. Refused refugee claimants cannot apply for pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA) or humanitarian and compassionate consideration for one year, which means they can be deported before exhausting all their legal options.
  • Discriminatory two-tier system based on nationality: The Immigration Minister can arbitrarily designate countries as ‘safe,’ making it essentially impossible to seek asylum regardless of one’s individual circumstances. This particularly impacts those fleeing violence due to their gender or sexual orientation. Canada fast-tracks deportations to these Designated Countries of Origin by forcing shorter timelines for processing, denying the right to appeal, and restricting legal avenues. In July 2015, the Federal Court of Canada ruled that this was discriminatory because it denied some refugees their full legal options and “serves to further marginalize, prejudice, and stereotype refugee claimants from DCO countries which are generally considered safe and ‘non-refugee producing.”
  • Mandatory incarceration for some refugees: The internationally condemned practice of mandatory detention is now the law in Canada. Refugees designated as “irregular arrivals,” including those as young as 16, face mandatory incarceration for at least two weeks up to a year. They are forced to make refugee claims from jail and are barred the right to appeal a negative decision. Detained mothers face the painful choice of keeping their children incarcerated with them or handing them over to a child welfare agency. Claimants who are designated as ‘irregular’ but eventually accepted as refugees are nonetheless banned from applying for permanent residency status and from sponsoring family for five years.
  • Loss of status and deportation for refugees with permanent residency: Accepted refugees who have permanent residency can lose their status and be deported if the Minister determines that they no longer need protection. This abolishes refugee protection and permanent status for refugees and, instead, introduces an unprecedented conditional residence for refugees. In 2014, the government set a quota to remove status from 875 refugees, with no process for appeal.

Reduced Access to Social Net

Drastic cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program means refugee claimants have significantly reduced access to basic health care. Except for government-assisted refugees, refugee claimants lost access to essential medications, vision care and dental care. All refugee claimants from countries designated as ‘safe’ no longer have health coverage including for urgent or essential care.

“Yeah, I feel like a big part of it was the Canadian government that really killed my dad.”

Rogelio, for example, arrived from Mexico a decade ago fleeing police persecution. A few years ago, an infection in his leg left him with a $3,700 emergency room bill. He had to pay for a series of tests including MRIs, biopsies, and CT Scans to diagnose cancer in his right knee joint. He works installing aluminum siding, windows and doors, despite a tumour protruding from the back of his knee that has grown to the size of a cantaloupe.

According to Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, these cuts “place the pregnancies of refugee women at serious risk, cause denial of treatment for sick children, and deprive refugees with cancer of coverage for chemotherapy.”

My father had cancer and he also had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, he was very sick. With the BC Cancer Agency we were able to get him a couple of treatments of radiation and finally they announced the federal cuts. Jason Kenney announced that they were going to be cutting all the refugee health care across Canada. My dad still needed the services so I was just really shocked that they didn’t care that my dad had lived here for almost three decades, where he worked most of his life where his three children were born, they just cut his health care off like that… And then he passed away last January. Yeah, I feel like a big part of it was the Canadian government that really killed my dad. – Diana Chu (not real name), as told to NOII in 2015.

Even though the Federal Court of Canada called the cuts unlawful and unconstitutional, the government is appealing the decision. The Conservative government has spent more than $1.4 million in taxpayers’ money in legal fees to fight this in court.

Buried within the latest omnibus Economic Action Plan that passed into law in 2014 are provisions to deny social assistance to a majority of refugees. This law amends the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act such that provinces can now impose individual residency requirements for eligibility for social assistance benefits.

Amnesty International has argued that this “worsens the lives of refugee claimants, who are already in situations of extreme precariousness, by restricting their access to social assistance violates Canada’s protection obligations under the Refugee Convention.” Despite opposition by over 160 organizations, the Tories made these provisions into law.

For information on the Private Sponsorship of Refugees, see