Fix Canada's refugee system

  • July 27, 2009
{mosimage}New federal regulations that require travellers from Mexico and the Czech Republic to obtain visas to enter Canada will not fix the nation’s troubled refugee system. Yet this recently announced initiative of the Conservative government has the overwhelming support of voters, recording 69-per-cent approval in an Angus Reid poll.

Some might interpret that as a general rebuke of Canada’s open-door policy of providing safe haven for those forced to flee their homes due to persecution, war and violence, often ethnic or tribal in nature. But we suspect the opposite is the case.

According to the United Nations, there are approximately 10 million refugees in the world today. These are refugees in every sense of the word. They fled their homes and can not go back, often because  race, religion, nationality or political affiliation make them a target.

When speaking about refugees it is important to remember these people. Too often, though, refugee discussions become entwined with immigration debates. They are much different, of course. Refugees flee by necessity; immigrants move by choice.

 So when a majority of Canadians endorse new visa requirements for Mexicans and Czechs to stem perceived abuse of the system, what they are probably decrying is back-door immigration by people who have chosen to move as opposed to those who were forced to flee. Canadians don’t like queue jumpers and they understand a generous refugee system overwhelmed by questionable claims will struggle to cope with legitimate ones.

The Immigration and Refugee Board currently has 50,000 unprocessed refugee claims, with another 10,000 cases on appeal. Mexico and the Czech Republic have become the two leading sources of illegitimate claims, with 90 per cent of Mexican claims being rejected.

But it is mistaken to think that requiring visas for the worst offenders will mend Canada’s asylum woes. A band-aid to stem the flow from two countries won’t stop whatever opportunists are waiting to exploit the system next. It won’t, for instance, halt an American military deserter from claiming refugee status and receiving financial aid until their case is adjudicated, which can take up to three years.

Change is needed. Canada’s current refugee process may be well intentioned but some days it seems like a feed-the-hungry program that ends up sending potatoes to Idaho. It is choking. 

Canadians are fair-minded and they expect a refugee system that is likewise. Canada should be opening its doors to genuine asylum seekers through a system that is fast, compassionate, dignified, unbiased and transparent. The system should be robust and capable of handling large numbers of day-to-day legitimate claims as well as responding instantly to a world crisis. It should be able to triage claims to quickly weed out the obviously bogus ones who consume so many of the dollars and so much of the manpower.

That’s not the issue presented in the opinion poll, but it is the issue on the minds of many Canadians.

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