Canada’s Immigration Department Recently Outlined How It’s Handling This Year’s Spike in Asylum Claims
Canada’s surge in asylum seekers has made headlines since the beginning of the year. The number of asylum claims filed in Canada has steadily increased since January, spiking this summer with hundreds of asylum seekers crossing into the country on a daily basis in August. Quebec is the most popular point of entry for asylum seekers making irregular border crossings, with so many coming in at once over the summer that the government had to set up makeshift housing. The federal government faced criticism for its handling of this surge of asylum claims, which led to a large backlog and lengthy delays in processing claims. Despite this, Canada’s immigration ministry has assured the government and public that they have a handle on the situation.
According to an article from the National Post, Canadian immigration officials, along with representatives from the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), recently briefed House of Commons committees on public safety and immigration on the current state of asylum seekers in Canada. The officials assured these committees that they have control over the year’s surge in asylum claims.
Since January 2017, there have been 32,000 asylum claims made in Canada, with 13,211 of those from asylum seekers crossing at irregular borders. And while this is a significant increase over last year, Canada does experience waves of asylum claims over the years. In 2009, there were 33,000 asylum claims made in Canada. However, the significant numbers crossing at Quebec’s unofficial border alone has sparked this year’s media attention on asylum seekers.
The number of asylum seekers crossing into Quebec has dropped since August, going down from hundreds per day in the summer to about 50 per day this fall. Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen spoke on the progress the government has made in reducing the backlog for claims processing, specifically reducing the delay for those awaiting eligibility interviews.
Dealing with the Backlog
To speed up the process, the department increased the number of interviews scheduled daily from 30 to nearly 200. These interviews are supposed to occur at the border at the time of entry into the country. However, the summer’s spike in asylum claims means these interviews have seen delays of several months.
Hussen said there are currently about 2,000 asylum seekers waiting for these interviews. While waiting, they have received temporary healthcare coverage, which is normally reserved for those whose claims have been approved.
Immigration officials have also reduced the backlog in work permit processing for asylum seekers. They aim to get more people working in Canada sooner. To reduce backlogs in processing asylum claims, the immigration department has reassigned about 80 staff members to handle these claims. Additional RCMP and CBSA personnel have also been assigned to process asylum seekers in Quebec.
Although backlog for the processing of initial interviews is shrinking, the government still faces criticism over significant wait times (now around 16 months) for a refugee hearing to take place. Refugee claimants have to wait in a state of limbo for extended periods of time before their case is even scheduled for a hearing. This uncertainty adds to their anxiety and stress of going through the refugee claim process, often with their families and children. The government undoubtedly will have to allocate additional resources to ensure additional Board Members are hired to hear the surge in refugee cases, in order to avoid a similar situation to those of the “legacy claimants” who have been waiting for several years for their refugee hearings.