Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July 2014, 14:56 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Canada

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Canada , 20 June 2001, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3b31e15f1c.html [accessed 22 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2000, Canada hosted some 54,400 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included individuals in 30,177 pending asylum cases, 13,990 who received refugee status during the year, and 10,236 refugees resettled from abroad during the year.

Canada received a record number of asylum seekers, 36,534--, in 2000. During the year, 34,253 claims were referred to Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Canadian authorities decided 24,124 refugee claims, recognizing applicants in 13,990 cases as refugees, a 57 percent approval rate (in 1999, the approval rate was 58 percent). Another 4,685 cases were either abandoned or otherwise concluded. The Canadian government reports the approval rate at 49 percent of all applications referred during the year to the IRB, up slightly from 46.3 percent in 1998. (The U.S. Committee for Refugees – USCR – calculates approval rates on the basis of decisions rendered after interviews, excluding administratively closed and withdrawn cases from the calculation.)

In 2000, the leading source countries for refugee claims in Canada were Pakistan (3,111), Sri Lanka (2,906), and Hungary (2,304). China, Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia were the next largest source countries, with 1,000 to 2,000 applications for each country. The countries with the highest approval rates were Afghanistan (89 percent), Somalia (78 percent), Sri Lanka (77 percent), and Congo (74 percent).

Asylum Procedure

Under Canada's asylum procedure, a senior immigration officer of Canada's Department of Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) first determines whether an asylum seeker's claim is eligible for an IRB hearing. CIC officers can rule a claimant ineligible for refugee determination on grounds such as criminality, as a threat to national security, or because the claimant has been recognized as a refugee in another country. Persons served with a removal order cannot file refugee claims.

Eligible cases are generally referred for a merits hearing before a two-person panel from the Convention Refugee Determination Division (CRDD) of the IRB. If either of two CRDD panel members rules positively, Convention refugee status is granted, except in certain cases that require a unanimous decision, such as when both CRDD members agree that the applicant destroyed or disposed of identity documents without valid reason.

The Canadian procedure also allows expedited consideration for claimants whose cases do not involve complex legal or factual issues, and who present no problems of credibility or inconsistency with known country conditions. In such cases, a single CRDD member can grant asylum after meeting informally with the claimant.

If both CRDD members reject a claim, the claimant may seek judicial review by submitting a written request to the federal court for "leave." Federal court judges do not give a reason for accepting or rejecting leave. If leave is granted, a judge hears arguments, and either upholds the CRDD decision or sends the case back to the CRDD with a written opinion. Judicial review is limited to correcting matters of law; federal court judges cannot review asylum claims solely on their factual merits.

Although some asylum seekers are held in detention, asylum seekers are generally not detained. Canada provides asylum seekers with a variety of social services, including income support and health services. Asylum seekers are also authorized to work while their claims are pending.

In February, the immigration minister announced the elimination of the $975 fee for permanent residence status for refugees, which had long been criticized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and refugee advocates. The repeal of the fee was effective on April 1, and was not retroactive.

In 1999, Canada reduced from five years to three the waiting period to "land" unsatisfactorily documented refugees after their refugee determination. In December 2000, Canada eliminated the waiting period. Instead of insisting on identity documents, the government began to accept sworn affidavits and witnesses able to confirm the identity of refugees. Many refugees, particularly those from Somalia and Afghanistan, were unable to provide proof of their identity because of a lack of government records and unrest in their countries of origin.

New Legislation

In April, the Canadian government tabled the "Immigration and Refugee Protection Act" in Parliament. If passed, the bill would significantly change Canadian asylum procedure – including a new right to appeal an asylum decision on the merits of the case to a Refugee Appeal Division, and the incorporation into law of Canada's nonrefoulement obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture.

The new legislation would also increase penalties for migrant smuggling and trafficking, increase the number of Canadian immigration officers abroad to "direct genuine refugees to appropriate missions or international organizations while preventing undocumented persons from seeking irregular channels of migration to Canada," require the detention of individuals who arrive illegally in Canada, streamline refugee backlogs, and bar "serious criminals" from claiming refugee status (persons convicted of nonviolent crimes or those persecuted for political reasons in their home country could be included under that definition).

The bill would allow foreigners ordered to leave Canada to apply for a "pre-removal risk assessment" if they fear persecution but are inadmissible on criminal or other grounds.

The bill would also extend to one year the period after which a failed asylum seeker can make a new claim. Currently, failed asylum seekers can make a second asylum claim 90 days after leaving Canada. Under the current system, half of the refugees who reapply are approved.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) criticized the proposed legislation, stating that it would rely more heavily on detention and lower the threshold for summary exclusion by border officials. The IACHR also stated that the proposed treatment of refugee claimants was "illegal by international standards."

The bill did not pass before federal elections were held in October. The government did not change after the elections, and the bill appeared likely to be reintroduced.

Convention Against Torture

In January, a Canadian federal court decided that the government may return refugees it suspects of terrorism even if they may face torture in their homeland. The Federal Court of Appeals in Ottawa allowed the return of two asylum seekers: one from Sri Lanka whom the court found to be an international leader of the Tamil Tigers; and one from Iran. Both claimed they feared torture by their governments and denied terrorist activity. The asylum seekers appealed their cases to the Supreme Court, but there was no final ruling in 2000.

In November, members of the UN Committee Against Torture stated that they were "troubled" by Canada's lack of adherence to the Convention Against Torture, which prohibits extraditing people to countries where they face torture.

One Chinese asylum seeker in Canada was charged in China with masterminding the largest corruption scandal in modern Chinese history. Canada was faced with choosing between returning him to China, where he faced execution, or granting him asylum. Canada had made no decision by year's end.

Resettlement

In 2000, Canada's resettlement priorities shifted to Africa and the Middle East.

In January, Canada, in cooperation with UNHCR, launched its Urgent Processing Project (UPP) in Kenya, Turkey, and Pakistan. The UPP aims to resettle within five days refugees having critical protection needs. By the end of June, Canada had brought 13 refugees to Canada under the pilot project.

Canada resettled 10,236 refugees in 2000. Of these, 7,339 were government-sponsored (the government paid the costs of transportation and provided services upon arrival). Private refugee sponsorships (including refugees coming to join family) slightly increased to 2,897 for the year. The largest groups resettled were from Afghanistan (2,236), Iraq (1,158), Sudan (971), and the former Yugoslavia (948).

Of the 10,236 refugees resettled in Canada during the year, 2,972 were admitted under Canada's "source country" and "asylum country" classes. The "asylum country" class includes people outside their country of origin who do not fit the definition of a refugee under the UN Refugee Convention but who are otherwise at risk for human rights violations, armed conflict, or civil war. Refugees in this class must be privately sponsored or be able to support themselves financially.

The "source country" class is for persons within their country of origin who have suffered serious deprivations of their civil rights, and persons seriously and personally affected by civil war or armed conflict. All are government sponsored. The class applies only to persons from a list of countries the government designates. In 2000, Canada resettled 1,450 refugees in this category, mostly from Croatia, Bosnia, and Colombia.

Chinese Asylum Seekers

During 2000, Canada deported 310 of the 600 Chinese asylum seekers that arrived in British Columbia on boats during the summer of 1999. Most were sent back to China in groups on chartered planes.

By year's end, Canada granted refugee status in 24 cases and denied the rest. At the end of the year, Canada continued to detain 29 of the rejected asylum seekers; 151 of those who were not detained could not be found and were issued arrest warrants. The returned Chinese faced jail and fines upon their return.

There were several incidents of riots by some of the detained Chinese migrants, who protested the length of time they had been held in custody and the prospect of being sent back to China. All of the incidents ended peacefully.

Among those granted asylum were nine children who were granted refugee status by a federal court after being denied by the IRB. The children, who were between the ages of 13 and 18, alleged they would be persecuted on the basis of their "particular social group" by being trafficked again by their parents and by human smugglers. Although the IRB had recognized children as members of a "particular social group" for asylum purposes in other cases, it was the first time that a Canadian federal court had done so.

Following an April visit to China by Canada's immigration minister to discuss reducing illegal immigration from Fujian Province, USCR wrote to the Canadian Ambassador to the United States. USCR expressed concern that "recent actions of your government aimed at discouraging undocumented immigration may prevent refugees from seeking and obtaining asylum in Canada." USCR urged the Canadian government to "carefully balance legitimate immigration concerns with your obligations under the UN Refugee Convention."

Roma

In 2000, Canada experienced a surge of Hungarian asylum seekers, principally Roma (gypsy) applicants. Some arriving at Canadian airports had been previously denied refugee status in Canada.

During the year, the IRB recognized 334 Hungarian asylum seekers as refugees, an approval rate of nearly 29 percent. This was an increase from 1999's 16 percent approval rate, but a substantial drop from 1998's 71 percent approval rate.

The U.S.-Canada Border

In December, Canadian immigration officials reported that since 1998, there was a 400 percent increase in the number of asylum claims made at land border crossings in Niagara Falls and Fort Erie, Ontario, where Canada borders New York. In 1998 and 1999, asylum claims filed at these ports of entry totaled 1,536. During the first eight months of the 2000 fiscal year, asylum seekers filed 5,857 claims. Most of the asylum seekers were from Argentina, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Pakistan, and Turkey.

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