For refugees trying to enter Canada, immigration has become much more difficult in recent years, to the dismay of asylum seekers and refugee law offices alike. New laws, policies, and regulations have been adding blockades, both figuratively and literally, between people fleeing persecution and the stations of government that conduct refugee hearings. The result is that while the process of gaining refugee status is largely unchanged, fewer refugees are likely to begin that process in the first place.
The United Nations Refugee Convention was meant to guarantee the right of any person to flee from persecution. The convention also called upon member nations to take on the burden of hosting these refugees. Historically, Canada has been seen as a safe haven for those forced to leave their homes, but over the years, new measures in Canada immigration policy have slowly worked towards closing off our borders.
One such measure is the penalty for refugees who are deemed as “irregular arrivals.” In a crisis situation, many people are forced to place their safety – and the safety of their family – above other considerations. But when the government, to the chagrin of many refugee law offices, passed Bill C-31, it meant that anyone who arrived in Canada without using proper channels would be met with immediate detention. In the event that a person detained as an irregular arrival is granted asylum, they will be denied the possibility of permanent residency for five years, making them unable to sponsor family members overseas that are still in immediate danger.
This is not the only change instituted by the current government of Canada. Immigration for refugees from certain Designated Countries of Origin has been severely limited in a number of ways as well. Refugees from these countries, including many in Western Europe, have their claims processing expedited to keep the system clear for more “urgent” refugees. For claimants from other countries, largely in the global south, automatic background checks, assisted by biometric measures, are required. While safety and legitimacy of a claim is an important factor, this underlying differentiation, presumably based on the notion that citizens of certain countries are more likely to be committing fraud, or to be involved in criminal activity, has not gone unnoticed by refugee law offices.
With new policies, including restrictions upon refugees entering through the United States, stricter visa requirements, and the penalization of humanitarian efforts to help refugees reach our borders, it is perhaps a more difficult time than ever to find asylum in Canada. If you are seeking safe refuge in Canada and are not sure how to navigate this complicated and unwelcoming new system, you should contact an immigration and refugee law office for assistance.