At the end of 1997, Canada hosted nearly 49,000 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included applicants in 28,357 pending asylum cases, 10,031 asylum applicants who received refugee status during the year, and 10,370 persons resettled as refugees during the year. In 1997, 24,289 asylum claims were filed in Canada, of which 22,584 were referred to Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Canadian authorities decided 19,138 refugee claims, and recognized applicants in 10,031 cases (52.4 percent) as refugees. This is the third consecutive year approval rates have dropped. In 1997, the leading source countries for refugee claims in Canada were Sri Lanka (2,611), the Czech Republic (1,511), India (1,340), and Iran (1,226). Canada resettled 10,370 refugees and their dependents from abroad (7,712 government-assisted, and 2,658 privately sponsored) in 1997. The 28,357 pending asylum applications at the end of 1997 represent a small drop from the 30,800 at the end of 1996. However, Canada's auditor general told to the House of Commons on December 2, 1997 he deplored the fact that it takes on average more than two-and-a-half years to settle a refugee claim. "It is worrisome to note that more than 35,000 persons are currently awaiting a decision at some stage in the process," he said. "This situation has a major human impact." Asylum Procedure Under Canada's current asylum procedure, a senior Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) officer must first determine 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, national security, or prior refugee recognition in another country. Persons served with a removal order cannot file refugee claims. Eligible cases are 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 rare 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 judges do not have to give a reason for accepting or rejecting leave. If leave is granted, the 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 judges cannot examine claims on their merits. Czech Roma In 1997, Canada received 1,511 applications for asylum from nationals of the Czech Republic, the majority of whom were Roma (gypsies). Most of the applications were filed in August and September. In 1996, 189 Czech nationals applied for asylum in Canada, and only 29 applied in 1995. The increased arrivals of Czech Roma into Canada followed the airing in the Czech Republic on August 7 of a documentary portraying Canada as safe and welcoming for the Roma and encouraging them to seek asylum there. The arrival of the Czech Roma into Canada created suspicion within the government and the Canadian public. An immigration lawyer representing Czech claims said newly arriving Roma reported that airport immigration officials and interpreters verbally harassed them. Canadian NGOs criticized members of the Canadian press for exaggerating the impact of the Roma's arrival and for fanning racism. To curb the flow of Roma asylum seekers with Czech citizenship, Canadian immigration authorities reinstated visa restrictions for Czech nationals on October 10. Visa-free entry into Canada for Czech nationals had been effective since April 1996. Regulatory Changes On May 1, 1997, a regulation eliminating the Deferred Removal Orders Class (DROC) took effect. The DROC, created in November 1994, identified rejected asylum seekers who had been under removal orders for more than three years, but who had established themselves in Canada and had been employed for at least six months, as a class that could become permanent residents. Most DROC class members had benefitted from a Canadian government moratorium on removals because of dangerous conditions in their countries of origin. During its existence from November 1994 through April 1997, CIC received about 6,600 applications under DROC, of which some 5,600 were approved (85 percent) and 1,000 (15 percent) refused. The government said it had abolished the DROC because its existence created a "disincentive for persons under removal order to leave Canada voluntarily." Canada also changed its Post-Determination Refugee Claimants in Canada (PDRCC) class as of May 1, 1997. Under the previous regulations, all rejected asylum seekers were automatically placed in the PDRCC review process and considered to be applicants for permanent residence. Persons would receive permanent residence if found to face a serious risk of harm upon return, provided they had not committed serious crimes and were otherwise admissible. Under the new regulations, rejected asylum seekers no longer automatically receive consideration for permanent residence as members of the PDRCC class. Instead, they have 15 days to apply for a review of their case, and a further 30 days to submit supporting documentation. Canada introduced additional grounds for denying rejected asylum seekers eligibility for inclusion in the PDRCC class, such as serious criminality. PDRCC class eligibility is also denied to rejected asylum seekers who leave Canada for the United States and then return to Canada and file a second refugee claim within six months of their departure. Such persons, say the regulations, "have already benefitted from the opportunity of a risk review subsequent to the initial refugee claim." The government said it had streamlined the PDRCC class to reduce "multiple, consecutive layers of decision-making for refused refugee claimants" and to avoid "unnecessary delays in removal." During the first seven months the regulatory changes were in effect, only 30 to 35 percent of failed refugee claimants applied for a review of their cases. Canadian NGOs generally opposed the regulatory changes, some asserting that the government was restricting its ability to meet its obligations under the Convention Against Torture. The nongovernmental ICCR called the DROC "a crucial safety valve allowing unrecognized refugees to get on with their lives when Canada chooses not to deport them." On January 31, 1997, another new regulation created an Undocumented Convention Refugee in Canada Class (UCRCC) for nationals or habitual residents of designated countries that cannot, because of sustained civil war and the lack of a central government, issue identity documents. Members of the UCRCC may apply for landing without meeting the identity document requirements for permanent residence established by legislative changes in 1993. Previously, such persons, although recognized as refugees, could not reunite with spouses and children abroad because they were not permanent residents. Only nationals from two countries, Afghanistan and Somalia, initially qualified for the UCRCC; the number of Afghans and Somalis processed under this class in 1997 was not available. The regulation requires UCRCC members to wait five years after the IRB recognizes them as refugees before they can adjust to permanent resident status. The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), an umbrella organization of Canadian NGOs, said, "Five years is an enormously long time to wait in legal limbo. The hardship is particularly unacceptable for those separated from children and husband or wife." The CCR also criticized the regulation: for being limited to two nationalities, noting that others have similar situations; and for limiting UCRCC to Convention refugees only, leaving undocumented Afghans and Somalis who could apply under PDRCC review still unable to adjust their status. Resettlement Changes in Canada's refugee resettlement programs came into effect on May 1, 1997 in the form of the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program. In addition to Convention refugees selected abroad, the program includes two new classes of humanitarian admissions for persons in refugee-like circumstances: a source country class and an asylum country class. Both new classes are intended to include persons continuously and seriously affected by civil war or armed conflict. Such admissions are reserved for persons with no possibility for a durable solution to their displacement within a reasonable period. The asylum country class is for persons outside their country of origin who have suffered from massive human rights violations. Such persons must be privately sponsored, a restriction that Canadian NGOs protested. The government said, "It is possible the asylum country category may result in an increase in the number of privately sponsored refugees, which would be in keeping with the government's intent to revitalize the private sponsorship program." However, from its inception in May to the end of 1997, only 26 people arrived in Canada as part of this class, all from Europe. The source country class is for persons within their country of origin who have suffered serious deprivations of their civil rights, including persons who have been detained or imprisoned. The class applies only to persons from a list of countries the government designates. El Salvador, Guatemala, Sudan, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and Croatia were the first countries on this list. Class members can be admitted either through government or private sponsorship. Some 242 people arrived in Canada under this class from May to December 1997, of which 194 were Bosnians or Croatians. Also under the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, Canada introduced new regulations related to the private sponsorship of refugees. The regulations created a new legal framework for refugee-sponsoring organizations entering into private sponsorship agreements with the CIC. The regulations require that sponsors be held responsible for refugees for longer than the previous commitment of one year. The regulations give immigration officers discretion to determine the appropriate period of sponsorship up to a maximum of two years. Privately sponsored refugees are not eligible for government assistance. Agreements on sponsorship are somewhat different depending on the type of sponsoring group. A group of five individuals may sponsor a refugee as before by submitting a resettlement plan of action to Canada's minister of citizenship and immigration. For organizations that sponsor larger numbers of refugees, individual resettlement plans have not been required. Instead, such groups have signed sponsorship agreements with the government. In either case, sponsors generally have had to demonstrate adequate financial resources to provide one-year's worth of lodging, care, and resettlement assistance. Detention and Deportation In December 1997, immigration officials reported that they had deported 6,219 people during the first ten months of 1997, about half of whom were rejected asylum seekers. Canada's auditor general released a report on the processing of refugee claims in December 1997, and commented on the slow, complex, and ineffective process for handling failed refugee claims. The report tabulated the status of some 31,200 failed claimants who filed since February 1993. Of 19,900 who had received removal orders, only 4,300 removals (22 percent) had been confirmed. (On March 12, 1998, the chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board issued "Guidelines on Detention." The guidelines deal with factors affecting long-term detention, the notion of "danger to the public," alternatives to detention, and the detention procedure itself.) Memorandum of Agreement Following a joint announcement in 1995 of the "Canada/U.S. Accord on Our Shared Border" by Prime Minister Jean ChrÉtien and U.S. President Bill Clinton, officials of the two governments tried to write a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to establish which country should be responsible for examining an asylum claim when an asylum seeker travels from one country to the other. The governments circulated a draft MOA for comment that would require‹with some exceptions‹that asylum applicants traveling from one country to the other apply for asylum in the country of first arrival. In 1997, the MOA negotiations remained stalled while the Canadian government assessed the ramifications of a 1996 U.S. asylum law. (Canada's minister of citizenship and immigration, Lucienne Robillard, announced on February 5, 1998 that negotiations on the MOA would not be pursued "given the implementation challenges arising from...changes for the U.S. asylum system.")

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