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The Globe and Mail – August 12, 2004

More visa restrictions, foreign interdiction hindering asylum seekers, advocates say

Increased security measures in Canada and the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of refugee claimants in Canada, advocates and lawyers say.

In the first six months of this year, Canada received 12,207 claims, the lowest number in a decade. This represents a 30-per-cent decline from the first six months of 2003 and a 45-per-cent drop from 2002.

“The U.S. is seeing a similar drop. Refugees are being made to pay the price for anti-terrorism measures,” said Janet Dench, executive director for the Canadian Council for Refugees.

The Immigration and Refugee Board would not speculate on why the numbers have dropped.

More stringent visa requirements and increased interdiction overseas mean it is now more difficult for asylum seekers to travel to North America, according to lawyers. The United States — the first destination of many refugee claimants — has introduced stricter visa requirements for many countries, while Canada has doubled the number of interdiction officers overseas.

Many refugee claimants use false passports to flee their countries, and if they are apprehended before boarding a plane, they are not allowed to proceed.

Max Berger, a Toronto refugee lawyer, said many refugee claimants used to enter Canada using somebody else’s permanent-resident card. However, the new cards carry photographs, making forgery more difficult.

“Most lawyers have noted the drop in the number of new refugee claims,” he said. “In terms of maintaining Canada’s tradition of being a receptive place for refugees, it is a cause for concern. It seems harder to make it to our shores.”

Added Ms. Dench, “By stopping people without proper documents from getting on planes, Canada closes the door on protection without making sure these people will be protected.”

Ms. Dench is also disappointed that Citizenship and Immigration Canada recently dropped the number of refugees it sponsors in the field from an annual target of 7,500 to 7,300. “If the number of claimants is going down, we should find more money to bring in government-sponsored refugees.”

Jean-Pierre Morin of CIC said, however, that “resources in the public sector have remained the same.” And the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says that Canada actually settles more people per capita than any other country.

Canada is also the only country in the world to allow individuals and organizations to privately sponsor refugees — although Ms. Dench complains that the government is slow to approve these applications.

The Immigration and Refugee Board’s acceptance rate is also at an all-time low of 43 per cent so far this year. However, advocates say this may relate to where the refugees are from. Among the top 10 source countries this year are war-torn countries such as Colombia and Sri Lanka, as well as stable nations such as Costa Rica and Mexico.


Max Berger is a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba and was educated at the University of Manitoba and York University. Mr. Berger is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada. He has represented immigration clients from all corners of the world and in every area of immigration law.

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