By RACHEL COLLIER
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced in December that refugees from the European Union, Croatia and the United States originate from “safe” countries and will have their claims heard on a sped-up basis.
Kenney named 27 Designated Countries of Origin (DCO) he says “do not normally produce refugees,” and instead “respect human rights and offer state protection to those who need it.”
The newly implemented scheme will make it much more difficult for these refugee claimants to gain asylum in Canada. The claimants who originate from a “safe” country will have only 30 days to prepare for their hearing, and will be given no right of appeal in the event they are denied.
The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) said in a release that the new system is “arbitrary, unfair, and unconstitutional”.
The group advocates for refugees from countries such as Hungary, which is a democratic country but whose institutions still persecute minority groups like Romani and Jewish peoples.
“It is just as difficult for DCO country claimants to prove their claims: they are just as frightened, the evidence is equally unavailable, yet they have half the time to prove their claim and no right to appeal bad decisions.” said Mitchell Goldberg, Vice-president of CARL.
“Because of this law, people will be sent back to a serious risk of persecution. It’s a travesty.”
But Kenney is skeptical of claims from Hungary. He said 98 per cent of Hungarian refugees seek asylum in Canada, even though Hungarians have unrestricted mobility throughout the European Union.
He added that “virtually all EU claimants either withdraw or abandon their claims.”
Kenney says this is evidence that claimants from Hungary and the European Union “are coming here to benefit from the generosity of Canada’s social welfare system.”
By saturating Canada’s refugee board with invalid claims, Kenney argues these applicants are draining resources that should be used to help those who are truly in danger.
The DCO list is the most recent of the broad changes being made to Canadian refugee policy, such as the cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP).
The IFHP, funded by taxpayers, no longer pays for services that other Canadian citizens would require a private insurance plan to cover.
Dr. Mark Tyndall, head of Infectious Diseases at the Ottawa Hospital, has seen the effects of cuts to refugee health benefits.
“I compare his sweeping changes of the immigration system to playing Sims on the computer,” said Tyndall, “You make uninformed and arbitrary decisions without the faintest idea of what will happen and then wait for the house to burn down.”
Tyndall said this new system will pose a problem to individuals safety and welfare, and a refugee’s country of origin should not to determine a claimant’s right to security.
Despite the backlash, Kenney says the changes are “essential” to protect Canada’s immigration system and the “proud tradition of refugee protection” in Canada.