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Opposition calls for Liberals to be true to refugee rhetoric, change system

June 21, 2017 - 6:09 AM

OTTAWA - Opposition MPs seized on the occasion of World Refugee Day on Tuesday as they applied political pressure on the Liberal government to honour a long-standing promise to refugees by overhauling Canada's asylum system.

Among other things, both the Conservatives and the NDP urged the government to examine the Canada-U.S. border, where upwards of 3,000 people have been arrested since January crossing between legal points of entry in order to claim asylum.

But data obtained Tuesday by The Canadian Press shows people are still being granted asylum under the much-maligned Safe Third Country Agreement, long blamed for driving the number of border arrests to record highs.

"When (U.S. President Donald) Trump's travel ban was first announced, while the NDP called for action, the prime minister tweeted, 'Hashtag Welcome To Canada,'" said NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan.

"We have recently learned that a 57-year-old woman lost her life attempting to cross the border into Manitoba. If the prime minister's hopeful words were matched with real action such as suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement, a life might have been saved."

The Safe Third Country Agreement prohibits people from making an asylum claim at the U.S.-Canada land border, on the basis that those in need of protection must make the claim in the first safe country they arrive in.

There are exceptions — if people have family in Canada, for example, they can be deemed eligible to make a claim at the border. The woman referenced by Kwan, Mavis Otuteye, had been on her way to Toronto to visit her daughter when she died along the Canada-U.S. border last month, the CBC has reported.

Data obtained under the Access to Information Act showed that over a six-day period in March, 123 people showed up at legal entry points along the border and requested asylum; 66 were judged eligible and 57 turned away, the data revealed, though the reasons were not given.

In that same time period, 98 were intercepted for crossing illegally.

The government has declined to publicly release historic data on border crossers, but the documents did provide a breakdown of interceptions between 2012 and 2016.

Between 2012-2015, there were 1,769. In 2016, that number rose to 2,073. So far this year, 3,461 people have been intercepted by the RCMP.

In total, 15,170 people have applied for asylum in Canada since January; recent documents show 36,000 claims are expected to be lodged here this year.

The UN said this week that in 2016, 65.6 million were displaced from their homes in 2016, an increase of 300,000 people over the previous year.

Of them, 22.5 million people were refugees at end of the year, the agency said in its Global Trends report.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said Canada is playing a leadership role, pointing to $700 million earmarked for resettlement and $62.9 million for legal aid for refugees as he came under fire Tuesday during the daily question period.

"We will always defend refugees and provide them enough supports to rebuild their lives and become great Canadians," he said.

But Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel noted there are 45,000 cases currently in the backlog for private sponsorship.

"This means that many of the world's most persecuted — including Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, and LGBTQ-plus, many of whom are internally displaced and cannot survive the process of getting onto a (UN) list — remain in peril even though Canadians have fundraised to bring them to Canada," she said.

"Why is the prime minister turning his back on both generous Canadian donors and persecuted minorities?"

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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