Fewer refugees seeking a home in Canada

Posted by admin on Mar 29th, 2011

By Frank Appleyard, Postmedia News March 29, 2011

The number of people arriving on Canada’s shores in search of protection has fallen to its lowest level since 2006 -a trend one expert is blaming partly on political intervention. A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report released Monday indicated that the number of applications for asylum in Canada fell 30 per cent in 2010, part of an overall decline in asylum claims in developed countries. The UN study of 44 Western countries noted a five per cent drop in asylum claims filed last year, extending a 42 per cent slide in applications since 2001.

Carleton University political scientist James Milner pointed to measures taken by Western countries to target select groups of asylum-seekers as a leading cause for the decline.

“Canada and other industrialized countries have enforced a number of measures to try and prevent asylum-seekers from arriving on their territory to claim asylum. In the case of Canada, this was done with visa requirements,” he said. “What we’ve seen is a real race to the bottom. No country wants to be seen as the country with the most lax refugee laws.”

The issue of asylum-seekers has been politically charged in recent years in Canada and around the world.

The arrival last year of 492 Tamil migrants in British Columbia aboard the MV Sun Sea set off another round of debate, and led the Conservative government to propose a bill to crack down on human-smugglers and their passengers.

In 2009, Canada imposed visa restrictions on Mexican residents in hopes of reducing the wave of refugee claims coming from the country’s citizens. The government estimated that 25 per cent of refugee claims in Canada came from Mexican nationals in 2008.

At the time, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney noted that the claims were putting a strain on the country’s refugee system.

“In addition to creating significant delays and spiralling new costs in our refugee program, the sheer volume of these claims is undermining our ability to help people fleeing real persecution,” he said in a statement.

“The visa requirement … will give us a greater ability to manage the flow of people into Canada.”

The UN report found an 84 per cent drop in Mexican asylum-seekers coming to Canada between 2009 and 2010, although Milner noted that the decrease in claimants from Mexico does not mean the circumstances are any better in Mexico now than in recent years.

“The situation on the ground in Mexico has not changed. What has changed is the difficulty for Mexicans to get a visa to be able to come to Canada to claim asylum here,” he said.

The number of asylum-seekers from the Czech Republic also fell, from over 2,000 in 2009 to “almost zero” the next year. The report speculated the drop was linked to new visa requirements for Czech citizens imposed two years ago.

Milner was critical of Canada’s decision to impose visa restrictions on certain countries in efforts to quell a surge in refugee claims.

“There’s a tension that’s emerging between how Canada understands its interests, and Canada understands its values,” he said.

“Canada has established itself as a leader internationally in the way that we respond to refugees and discussions about how women and children are considered within our asylum system. But there seems to be very narrow calculations taking place domestically as part of a desire to portray Canada as being tough on queue-jumpers. There is no ‘asylum queue.'”

Despite the drop in claims, Canada was still the fifth most popular destination for asylumseekers, receiving 23,200 applications from individuals fleeing harm in their home countries.

The United States was the top Western destination for asylum-seekers for the fifth consecutive year, receiving 55,500 applications in 2010 -an increase of 13 per cent.

France, Germany and Sweden rounded out the Top 5 destinations. Together, these countries accounted for more than half of all asylum applications in the study.

Canada was the only country in the Top 5 to see a decrease in the number of asylum claims it received in 2010.

The report does not show how many asylum-seekers were granted official refugee status.

Milner said that Canada’s recent policy decisions are at the heart of the decline domestically, adding that such moves risk jeopardizing Canada’s global credibility.

“For more than a decade Canada has been seen as the model for how asylum claims get determined in an impartial way according to the letter and spirit of international and domestic refugee law,” he said. “As that becomes politicized, it’s another area where Canada loses credibility.”

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