Source: National Post
Finally a crackdown on bogus refugee claims. For too long have people been taking advantage of our system. It’s about time we have a Government that has grown a pair. We don’t want move ships of fake Tamil refugees boarding our docks in Vancouver again.
OTTAWA — With the contentious budget bill set to dominate parliamentary business Monday in what could be the start of a multi-day opposition filibuster at the report stage, another controversial omnibus bill is set to clear the Commons.
The government’s sweeping refugee bill is scheduled for a final vote Monday before heading to the Senate.
It comes as Citizenship and Immigration officials float new figures that suggest the Hungarian refugee problem isn’t going away.
Cracking down on so-called “bogus” asylum claimants is a key facet of the bill and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has pointed repeatedly at the large number of Hungarian Roma refugee claimants — whose cases, he says, are usually rejected, abandoned or withdrawn — as proof the legislation is desperately needed.
The figures provided to Postmedia News indicate Canada has received 1,282 refugee claims from Hungarian nationals between January and May of this year, only slightly fewer than the 1,291 claims that were received during the same period last year.
Even after just five months, that’s still far more claims than any other European country.
“Virtually all asylum claims from European Union citizens in 2011 were abandoned or withdrawn by the claimant or rejected by the independent [Immigration and Refugee Board], with Canadian taxpayers left to foot the bill for the expensive health care and welfare benefits these bogus claimants received,” Kenney’s press secretary Alexis Pavlich said in an email.
“These numbers reinforce the need for Bill C-31, [the] Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act. This law will result in genuine refugees receiving Canada’s protection faster, while enabling the government to remove bogus refugee claimants more quickly.”
While the government has simply slapped visas on countries like the Czech Republic and Mexico when they, in the past, started producing an abundance of non bona fide claimants, it has been reluctant to do the same for Hungary, possibly because the issue has become an irritant in ongoing free trade negotiations between Canada and the European Union.
Several countries, including the Czech Republic, have said they won’t ratify the deal if Canada doesn’t remove the visa requirement on its citizens.
In an interview, Kenney suggested safe country provisions in C-31 effectively would allow Canada to drop many of its visa requirements.
“One of the reasons we need to reform our broken asylum system is so we can liberalize our visas with countries,” he said in an interview.
“Visa requirements can be quite injurious to our commercial and diplomatic interests and we need other tools to combat widespread abuse of our immigration system.”
The safe country provision gives the minister the discretion to create a list of democratic countries that are unlikely to produce real refugees.
It would mean claimants from those countries would be dealt with quicker — within 45 days instead of the current 1,000 days — and have no right to an appeal, meaning that illegitimate asylum seekers effectively could be deported quicker.
But critics have raised concerns about the provision, which they argue puts too much power in the hands of the minister and will politicize what’s supposed to be a fair and impartial judicial process. Groups like Amnesty International have further argued that it’s difficult to determine where to draw the line on safe countries and noted countries that may seem safe for the majority may not be for certain minorities — or even for women.
Roma have argued they’re among those persecuted minorities in an otherwise safe country and have called the provision “racist stereotyping.” They argue persecution against Roma in Central and Eastern Europe is well documented and that acceptance rates in the past actually have been quite high in Canada.
Toronto Roma Community Centre executive director Gina Csanyi-Robah has even blamed anti-Roma rhetoric by government officials for sending a chill through the Immigration and Refugee Board and has argued the reason many Roma fail to show up for hearings or withdraw or abandon their claims is because they have difficulty navigating Canada’s refugee system.
Hungary welcomes the new provision. Tamas Kiraly, deputy head of mission at the Embassy of Hungary in Ottawa, said visa reciprocity is “very important” and that the safe country provisions in C-31 are a good alternative.
He said 95% of all largely Roma Hungarians who claim refugee status in another country have done so in Canada where the system is overly generous.
He also suggested there’s a lot of confusion within the community itself about what it even means to be a refugee.
“That happens regularly that they are turning to us, the Hungarian Embassy, about the possibility of submitting a refugee claim in Canada,” he said.
“We have to explain to them that coming to Canada as a refugee would also mean that they are escaping from us so we’re not even supposed to know about what they’re preparing to do.”
During its recent stint at the helm of the EU, Hungary declared the Roma situation a priority for Europe, Kiraly said, adding the country has begun to address issues plaguing the community — namely integration, social inclusion and poverty.
The government wants Bill C-31 passed by the end of June when its predecessor — the Balanced Refugee Reform Act — is set to take effect.
Critics agree the refugee system needs reform but have said they’d prefer to stick with the previous bill, which was passed during the last minority Parliament after the government reached a consensus with the NDP. The new bill essentially puts back some of the contentious elements that were removed, a move that’s prompted cries of dirty politics.
The bill also seeks to clamp down on human smugglers and those who use them to come to Canada illegally. Under the legislation, bona fide refugees who arrive illegally would be barred from seeking permanent residency or sponsoring a loved one for five years, a move critics say undermines the importance of family reunification and violates international law.
The bill, which is certain to pass given the Conservative majority, also requires certain visa holders to turn over biometric data.