Refugee board expands as claimants spike


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While the number of refugee claimants streaming over the border at Emerson has grown, so have the Immigration and Refugee Board’s hearing rooms in Winnipeg.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/02/2017 (2232 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

While the number of refugee claimants streaming over the border at Emerson has grown, so have the Immigration and Refugee Board’s hearing rooms in Winnipeg.

On Feb. 1, the number of refugee board hearing rooms at the historic Victory Building at 269 Main St. doubled.

Up until last month, there was one tiny board hearing room that could seat half a dozen observers in addition to the claimant, lawyers for both sides and the TV monitor for the hearings held via teleconference with a board member in another city, usually Vancouver.

It was standing-room-only at the refugee protection division hearing last spring for Hazim Ismail, a gay university student facing persecution if he was returned to Malaysia, where homosexuality is outlawed. His supporters and observers spilled out into the reception area. The year before, it was a similar, crowded situation at the hearing for Yahya Samatar, with reporters and observers packed cheek-to-jowl in the tiny space to hear his case. The aid worker forced to flee Somalia after running afoul of Al Shabaab terrorists made international headlines when he swam into Canada via the Red River. Both Ismail and Samatar were granted protection on the same day as their hearings in that tightly packed room.

Now, there are two larger hearing rooms with larger reception areas down the hall from the original space on the seventh floor of the Victory Building. The expansion to two hearing rooms from one was approved back in 2015, said Immigration and Refugee Board spokeswoman Anna Pape in Ottawa. The former space, she said, “did not meet our operational needs.”

Pape said the hearing rooms in Winnipeg are not only for refugee protection proceedings and are shared by three refugee board divisions: the refugee protection division, the immigration appeal division and the immigration division.

The refugee board is an independent administrative tribunal that decides refugee protection claims made in Canada and certain other immigration matters referred to it. Each claim is decided by an independent decision-maker on its own merits and in accordance with the evidence and submissions made at the hearing.

Refugee claimants such as Seidu Mohammad, the Ghanaian who lost his fingers to frostbite crossing into Canada on foot Dec. 24, will have his refugee protection hearing in the new space.

Somalis Mohamed Mualim, Farhan Ahmed and Mohammad Kosar — who were among a group of 20 who walked into Emerson the first weekend in February — told the Free Press they planned to move on to Toronto, where their refugee protection hearings will take place.

Welcome Place, which helps refugee claimants in Winnipeg file their refugee claims, says most of the asylum seekers are staying in Winnipeg and their refugee board proceedings will take place here. An immigration lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he thinks about half of those arriving in Emerson are moving on to other Canadian cities.

The Canada Border Services Agency says the total number of refugee claimants showing at Emerson has been on the rise for several years — from 68 in the 2013-14 fiscal year to 430 in the first three months of the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Pape said the new space for refugee board proceedings in Winnipeg isn’t yet fully booked, but it’s getting there.

“However, based on current volumes, we expect to hold hearings four to five days per week moving forward,” she said.

Pape did not confirm reports a local board member is being hired to hear cases in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg immigration lawyer Bashir Khan said two Manitoba candidates were examined for the position of board member of the refugee protection division. The refugee board is in the process of hiring and training a member who will be permanently based in Winnipeg and most likely will be a Manitoban, said Khan.

“Finally, Friendly Manitoba will have one of its own, a Manitoban, as an adjudicator in adjudicating refugee claims,” Khan said. “Up until now, either Albertans or British Columbians were making decisions concerning the lives of refugees in Manitoba… Now, finally a Manitoban will get to have a say in whether refugees will be allowed to stay here.”

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.


Updated on Friday, February 17, 2017 7:52 AM CST: Adds photo

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