July 22, 2018

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Refugee advocates can take a stand

Groups challenge designation of U.S. as safe third country

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/12/2017 (221 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After asylum seekers lost life and limb crossing into Canada in 2017, human rights groups trying to secure a safer way for them to get here to make a refugee claim won a small victory in federal court this week.

On Monday, a judge granted the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches public interest standing in a court case challenging the designation of the United States as a safe third country for refugees.

“This is an incredible opportunity to stand beside those who seek Canada’s protection but also to make a stand in the presence of the highest court in our land,” said Dorota Blumczynska, executive director of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba, which operates two transitional housing apartment blocks in Winnipeg. Close to 20 per cent of IRCOM residents are refugee claimants, she said.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement that took effect in December 2004, Canada and the U.S. each declared the other country safe for refugees and closed the door on most refugee claimants at the U.S.-Canada border. The Canadian rights groups say the U.S. is not a safe country for all refugees.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/12/2017 (221 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After asylum seekers lost life and limb crossing into Canada in 2017, human rights groups trying to secure a safer way for them to get here to make a refugee claim won a small victory in federal court this week.

On Monday, a judge granted the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches public interest standing in a court case challenging the designation of the United States as a safe third country for refugees.

"This is an incredible opportunity to stand beside those who seek Canada’s protection but also to make a stand in the presence of the highest court in our land," said Dorota Blumczynska, executive director of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba, which operates two transitional housing apartment blocks in Winnipeg. Close to 20 per cent of IRCOM residents are refugee claimants, she said.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement that took effect in December 2004, Canada and the U.S. each declared the other country safe for refugees and closed the door on most refugee claimants at the U.S.-Canada border. The Canadian rights groups say the U.S. is not a safe country for all refugees.

In July 2017, the three organizations joined a woman from El Salvador and her children who are asking the federal court to strike down the Safe Third Country Agreement and allow her to make a refugee claim in Canada.

The federal government filed a motion with the court, asking the organizations to be removed as parties from the litigation.

The court on Monday rejected the motion, saying the organizations are well-placed to help advance access to justice for refugee claimants affected by the Safe Third Country Agreement and to help the court understand its impact on their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Before the U.S. was designated as a "safe third country", refugee claimants could present themselves at a Canada port of entry and ask to apply for refugee status.

Now most refugee claimants are denied the chance to make a refugee claim if they present themselves at a port of entry.

They must cross the border irregularly in order to make a refugee claim inside Canada, since the rules about "safe third country" do not apply to people who cross the border outside of a port of entry.

The rule hasn’t proven to be safe for refugee claimant Seidu Mohammed, who lost his fingers to frostbite walking over the border past Emerson last December, and Mavis Otuteye, who died of hypothermia in a Minnesota farmer’s field trying to get to Canada in May. That’s not what Canada had in mind when it entered into the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S., said Blumczynska.

"The intent was to ensure the refugee determination systems on both sides of the border were robust, timely, accessible, equitable, fair and transparent — that both systems were unbiased and both held to international agreements that both countries signed giving refugee claimants the opportunity to share their story and seek protection," Blumczynska said.

"We know that in recent years, their experiences have been very different," she said. "Whereas Canada has responded in a humanitarian way and fully honoured the intent of its international agreements, we are not seeing the same honouring south of the border with some of the travel bans put in place. It is certain that there is a bias against various communities," said Blumczynska, vice-president of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

The council says the U.S. is not safe for refugee claimants for several reasons, including that many are arbitrarily detained in substandard conditions with limited or no access to legal counsel. The Donald Trump administration’s new anti-refugee and anti-Muslim measures — which Blumczynska calls "fear mongering" — have made things worse.

"The security mechanisms we have in place — thorough interviews, fingerprinting, checking international databases like Interpol — are doing an incredible job of screening people," she said. Scrapping the agreement with the U.S. so refugee claimants can present themselves at a Canadian port of entry would allow for a more humane and orderly process, Blumczynska said.

"The reality is this is our opportunity to show that we’re going to honour those commitments. We have the means and the space and the most compassionate, kind and welcoming communities of any nation in the world."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

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