Change in refugee law will make entrance to Canada difficult

Children pose at Qatmeh refugee camp in Syria. Photo by Yaman Marwah

Children pose at Qatmeh refugee camp in Syria. Photo by Yaman Marwah

By RACHEL COLLIER

It will soon be more difficult for Refugees to enter Canada, said Carleton University professor James Milner.

In June, Parliament passed Bill C-31, an amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.  Milner, a researcher and policy adviser on issues relating to refugees, said the changes will make it harder for refugees to enter Canada–even on the grounds of persecution.

Under the new changes, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has been given the independent power to decide if the country of origin is safe for a claimant.

Rejected refugee claimants will now be unable to appeal the decision to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. In addition, the amount of time refugees are required to wait before applying to become permanent resident has been extended.

Calls to Kenney’s office were not returned.

“There is a lot of anti-refugee rhetoric coming from the government,” said Milner.

“The government has led the debate on refugee issues by using certain language that immediately casts refugees as in some way deviant. This automatically creates an environment where there is not a lot of public sympathy for refugees.”

While the Canadian government is putting more restrictions on refugees, there is growing turmoil and persecution in the Middle East and North Africa.

One human rights activist, who requested anonymity for his own safety and the security of refugees he has helped move around the world, said that most refugees face persecution from religious and political extremists.

“People should have basic human rights and no religion or government should stop them,” said the activist, “I deal with those who are persecuted because of their faith. We relocate those people who might lose their lives, who get beaten.”

Milner says people such as this human rights activist are necessary in some dangerous situations, but without the state’s co-operation, refugees are unable to obtain permanent legal status.

“The Iraqi Christian refugees in Jordan and in Syria are allowed to be there, but they’re not given the legal right to work or care for themselves,” said Milner, “If you’re waiting 20 years in a refugee camp, you don’t benefit from the protection of any particular state.”

After a person seeking refugee status enters Canada, the claim is either accepted or dismissed by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. All claimants are issued a conditional departure order that is only removed once a claim is approved,  says Melissa Anderson, a representative from the Immigration and Refugee board of Canada.

But refugees who come to Canada are looking for permanent homes where they will be given legal rights said Janice Mills, the  executive director of Matthew House, a transitional service for refugees.

“Refugees are worried that the government will deny them refugee status,” said Mills. “They have the mentality that you can’t trust the police, or a pastor or even somebody in the family. These are people that fear for their lives on a daily basis.”

When Amina Mire–a Somali immigrant and professor at Carleton University–entered Canada, she felt that the government did everything it could to integrate and accept refugees.

“When I arrived, Canada was number one for protection of refugees. It was one of the only countries that took the Geneva Convention seriously.”

The 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees guarantees refugees safety, but Canada took it a step further.

“The Geneva Convention does not guarantee citizenship; it guarantees safety. Canada was the first country to convert refugee status to citizenship,” said Mire, “Canada believed that once people have been dislocated, it is inhuman to dislocate.”

Mire no longer believes Canada is doing everything it can to help people fleeing persecution.

“I am shocked to see the new attempt to politicize or to suggest a different kind of citizenship,” said Mire, “Canada should go back to its original values.”

Milner says these policy changes are more than simply problematic for refugees.

“Bill C-31 erodes the whole principle of the system we’ve had for 60 years.”

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