Opposition: Tories responsible for refugee backlog

Posted by admin on Apr 7th, 2010

By ELIZABETH THOMPSON, April 7, 2010 6:49pm

OTTAWA — The percentage of refugee claims processed each year has dropped dramatically since the Conservatives came to power, setting the stage for the government’s new refugee reform, says Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis. “They created a crisis and the (backlog) numbers went up and when the numbers went up then they said they had to fix it.” However, Alykhan Velshi, spokesman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, says the government inherited a broken system and introduced its reform because Band-Aid solutions will no longer work.

The controversy centres on the government’s proposed reform of Canada’s refugee system — a reform the government says will result in quicker hearings for refugee claimants — and quicker removals for failed claimants.

Introducing the reform last week, Kenney said it is necessary because the current system is “broken” with claimants waiting an average of 4.5 years for their cases to be resolved. Currently, there is a backlog of 61,000 refugee claims.

Karygiannis, though, says statistics he obtained show the current system was working and even reducing the backlog before the Conservatives came to power.

In 2005, the government received 19,761 claims and finalized 25,400 outstanding ones, resulting in a claims finalized figure of 128%.

In 2006, the year the Conservatives formed the government, that figure dropped to 75%. In 2007 it sank to 52%, rising slightly to 55% in 2008. In 2009 it rose again to 79%.

Karygiannis says the level of refugee claimants has remained relatively stable. The problem stems from the government’s refusal in 2006 and 2007 to replace immigration and refugee board (IRB) commissioners whose terms had expired.

“They starved the system by not appointing refugee board members.”

New Democratic Party immigration critic Olivia Chow shares Karygiannis’s suspicion that the government engineered the backlog to justify the reform — particularly the new power to allow the immigration minister to designate safe countries.

“They broke the system, now they are trying to fix it by introducing the safe countries concept.”

Velshi dismisses the suggestion Kenney deliberately created the backlog — pointing out that Kenney filled the vacant IRB positions before introducing the reform.

Velshi said the government inherited a backlog of 20,000 claims from the start and a rise in claimants accounts for another 20,000. He said the final third of the backlog is the result of the delay in filling IRB positions because the government wanted to reform the appointment system to require candidates to pass tests and be screened by the IRB.


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