Canada ignoring refugees from Mexican violence: advocates

Posted by admin on Mar 27th, 2009

By Jennifer Ditchburn, THE CANADIAN PRESS, March 27, 2009

OTTAWA — Human rights and refugee advocates say the Conservative government is ignoring a terrifying security crisis that is pushing thousands of Mexicans to seek safety in Canada.  The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) late last year linked bloody drug-cartel wars in Mexico to a sharp hike in the number of refugees claims — more than 8,000 compared with 7,000 the year before.

But this week Immigration Minister Jason Kenney accused Mexican applicants of abusing the Canadian system.

“The Canadian government doesn’t believe that Mexicans are genuine refugee cases, or fleeing from genuine persecution in Mexico,” said Francisco Rico-Martinez of Toronto’s FCJ Refugee Centre.

“If you review the information in Mexico, it’s clearly a serious problem in terms of violence, lack of protection from the authorities, corruption, drugs . . . so to continue with this idea that Mexicans are economic migrants and come and invent stories just to be here in Canada is not sustainable.”

More than 8,000 deaths have been linked to drug-related violence in Mexico over the past year, as the government tries to crack down on the powerful cartels. The situation has so alarmed United States, that the Obama adminstration this week sent 500 federal agents to assist with the battle.

Canadian officials are bracing for even more refugee claims from Mexicans travelling through the United States, rather than just hopping a plane directly to Canada.

Because Mexicans do not require a visa to enter Canada, they are exempt from a Canada-U.S. treaty that requires refugees to make a claim in the first country they enter — called the Safe Third Country agreement.

“Given the economic reality and reinforced security in the United States, an increase in the number of Mexican asylum-seekers at land borders is expected,” reads a November report from the CBSA released under Access to Information.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees this week also reported that Canada was seeing a 30-per-cent increase in refugee claims, making it the world’s second biggest recipient of such claims.

Mexicans represent a quarter of all refugee claims, with Haiti and Colombia the next major source countries.

Kenney said the numbers suggest people are abusing Canada’s generosity, and that the high rejection numbers specifically for Mexican refugee claimants — 90 per cent — “suggest wide-scale and almost systematic abuse.”

Organizations that deal directly with refugees say Kenney’s remarks were misinformed and insulting to those most at risk.

Martinez says 80 to 90 per cent of his clientele are Mexicans fleeing violence and abuse in all parts of Mexico.

“Everything is related to the climb of violence in Mexico. Some of them have received direct threats for different reasons — because they were caught in the middle of drug cartels when they are trying to control an area, or they saw a crime or corruption, you name it.”

Part of the difficulty for refugee applicants, say advocates, is that Immigration and Refugee Board staff judge Mexico a country that is able to protect its citizens. They also often suggest claimants can simply relocate to another part of Mexico.

But Gloria Nafzinger, a refugee co-ordinator with Amnesty International Canada, says that view is simplistic.

“It’s shocking and unconscionable that the minister would be prejudging asylum claims from Mexico,” said Nafzinger.

“While the acceptance rate is low at the Immigration and Refugee Board, the board and Mr. Kenney would do well to seriously investigate the levels of violence that are taking place and look closely at the nature of the claims because there are absolutely serious human rights concerns with respect to people coming from Mexico.”

Kenney was not immediately available for further comment Friday.


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