World Refugee Survey 2009: Canada
Canada received 34,800 asylum applications in 2008, and granted asylum to 7,550 applicants. At year's end, 54,200 asylum seekers had outstanding claims. It resettled 10,800 refugees during 2008.
2008 Events Summary
Canada did not refoule any refugees during 2008, but deported roughly 12,000 foreigners during the year, usually to their country of origin, more than 70 percent of them failed asylum seekers. At year's end, it was detaining 251 refugee claimants. All told, it detained more than 6,600 people during 2008. It removed some asylum seekers to the United States under a mutual agreement between the two countries (see below).
Canadian immigration officials reportedly provided data on asylum applicants to the embassies of their home countries; only the Czech Republic confirmed this publicly, but other countries also received information.
In February, an appeals court suspended a lower court's ruling voiding the Safe Third Country Agreement between the United States and Canada (see below), pending its consideration of the Government's appeal. In July, the appeals court overturned the lower court ruling, allowing the agreement to continue.
Refugee activists called for officials standards for gay and lesbian asylum seekers in March, following the deportation of a Malaysian asylum seeker who could not convince the Immigration and Refugee Board that he was actually gay, despite having been jailed for homosexuality.
In March, Canada deported a Somali refugee after he completed a jail term for assault. He had lived in Canada since he was 16, arriving in 1989.
The final 140 Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines, along with roughly 180 of their children and non-Vietnamese spouses, departed for Canada in April.
In June, the Government appointed 9 new members to the IRB, and reappointed 12 whose terms were about to expire. There remained 36 vacancies on the 164-member board.
Canada returned a U.S. serviceman seeking to avoid serving in Iraq in July, the first time it had done so. The Government also ordered the deportation of a Peruvian refugee it said was involved in a major theft ring.
In July, Canada threatened to re-impose visa restrictions on visitors from the Czech Republic after receiving a large number of asylum requests from Roma.
An IRB employee originally from Jamaica testified to Canada's Public Staffing Tribunal in September that the IRB engaged in systematic discrimination against minorities in its employ.
Law and Policy
The 2004 Agreement for Cooperation in the Examination of Refugee Status Claims from Nationals of Third Countries between Canada and the United States, (Safe Third Country Agreement) requires asylum seekers traveling between the two countries apply in the country where they first arrived.
Since 2004, Canada suspended removals to Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe, but not for those who commit crimes or pose security risks.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) selects refugees abroad for resettlement based on referrals from UNHCR and private sponsors. In the case of designated source countries (Congo-Kinshasa, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan), residents can apply directly at Canadian missions serving that region. Canadian visa officers decide all claims from abroad.
Within Canada, the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) decides asylum claims based on the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees as well as Article 3 of the 1984 Convention against Torture. Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which took effect in 2002, calls for a Refugee Appeal Division, but the Government has not yet created one. Applicants can appeal to the Federal Court, but the court rejects 90 percent of appeals without giving reasons. When the Federal Court upholds claims, the cases return to the IRB for further hearings. In 2007, immigration matters accounted for 76 percent of new cases filed with the Federal Court.
Rejected asylum seekers can also seek pre-removal risk assessments, but these consider only new evidence and do not review original decisions. The final option is to seek permanent residence on discretionary "humanitarian and compassionate grounds." The Government can deport applicants, however, even as it considers their claims.
Every refugee and asylum seeker has the right to representation by legal counsel, and several provinces provide free legal aid to those who can not afford it.
Detention/Access to Courts
The IRPA gives authorities the right to detain non-citizens for security reasons, in cases of failure to establish identity, or if they deem them likely to skip proceedings.
Detainees can appeal to the IRB, but it can not intervene if CIC doubted their identity. The IRB reviews non-identity-based detention cases 48 hours after detention, again within 7 days, and then every 30 days thereafter.
Canada has an expedited process to remove dangerous persons, allowing for indefinite detention of permanent residents, refugees, and temporary visitors without the right to view the charges against them.
The IRPA entitles refugees and protected persons to documents indicating their status, but requests take eight weeks to process.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
Canada allows refugees and asylum seekers to move freely within the country. Once they obtain a Permanent Resident Card or a Protected Person Status Document, they can apply for international travel documents through the passport office.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
Following the filing of their asylum claims and a medical exam, asylum seekers can apply for work permits. Until they gain permanent residence, the Government assigns refugees and asylum seekers social insurance numbers beginning with nine, which identifies them as people without permanent status and makes it difficult to obtain some jobs. In addition, they must demonstrate skills and education relevant to a job and fluency in English or French.
CIC officers can impose, vary, or cancel conditions on work permits, including the type of employment, the employer, location, and hours worked.
Refugees have the legal right to hold title to and transfer businesses, land, and other capital assets.
Public Relief and Education
The Canadian Government offers refugees housing assistance, health services, financial assistance, and income support for up to one year. Once started, provincial health insurance covers them on par with nationals. Social assistance for asylum seekers varies by province and, in some cases, is worse than national treatment.
The IRPA stipulates that foreign minors did not need authorization to study at the pre-school through secondary school level, unless they are children of temporary residents not authorized to work or study in Canada. Refugee children have access to the same primary and secondary education as Canadian nationals.
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