Refugee Groups Challenge U.S. Status as Safe Third Country

Posted by admin on Feb 8th, 2007

Refugee Groups Challenge U.S. Status as Safe Third Country. Canadian Press, February 7th. Lauren la Rose

TORONTO (CP) – Washington’s failure to comply with the UN convention on refugees and its flawed refugee system demands that Ottawa review the designation of the United States as a safe third country for asylum seekers, Federal Court heard Monday. The deportation of Maher Arar to Syria and the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay are evidence of “continual breaches” carried out by the U.S., lawyer Lorne Waldman told the court. Waldman, who along with several other lawyers represents the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches, said it’s “extremely problematic” that Ottawa doesn’t continually review the U.S.’s compliance with the conventions.

“If we’re going to say to the world we think it’s acceptable to send refugees to the United States … there has to be ongoing accountability,” said Waldman.

In a deal known as the safe third-country agreement, Canada can turn back potential refugees at the Canada-U.S. border on the grounds that they pursue their claims in the U.S., the country where they first landed.

The groups are challenging the agreement in Federal Court, arguing that the U.S. does not comply with Article 33 of the UN convention on refugees or Article 3 against torture.

“In a post-9-11 world, a lot of information has come to light that the U.S. (has) …. justified the use of torture, rendition and training others to commit torture,” lawyer Barbara Jackman told the court.

“The principles of fundamental justice require that people be protected from persecution or torture.”

Article 33 states that no state should expel or return refugees where their life or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion or nationality, membership of a particular group or political opinion.

The matter before the court stems from the case of “John Doe,” a refugee claimant who was arrested in the U.S. on Friday.

The claimant had been in the U.S. since 2000, but did not apply for refugee status within the mandated one-year time frame.

He applied for asylum 18 months later, court heard.

If the third-country agreement didn’t exist, Doe could make a refugee claim in Canada. Instead, he’s in detention and faces extradition to Colombia.

Last December, the Canadian Council for Refugees called on Ottawa to pull the U.S. from its list of safe countries, saying changes made in 2005 to U.S. law have made it significantly more difficult for asylum seekers to win protection.

While federal and provincial governments in Canada provide millions in funding for refugee claimants and offer legal aid access in detention centres, the U.S. does nothing, said lawyer Leigh Salsburg. The U.S. system is “nowhere near as close to sufficient,” she said.

The extent to which refugee claimants are excluded individual assessment is also non-compliance by the UN convention standards, Jackman told court.

Government lawyer David Lucas argued that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has commented favourably on the third-country agreement and considers the U.S. to be a safe country.

“The U.S. has a mature and well-developed protection system and its checks and balances from a mature developed judiciary,” Lucas said.

“It’s not like we’re talking about sending people to North Korea.” The proceedings resume Tuesday.

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