Government notifies the United Nations refugee agency that Canada is ending a policy of ‘regime limbo’ for asylum-seekers at its north American borders, it was announced on Friday.
With a program that began in May 2015, the Ottawa government allowed people seeking refugee status to file claims at official points of entry and use their government-issued temporary identification as identification for their lodging, health care and banking transactions. The Canadian Press reports that more than 31,000 of those asylum-seekers were granted refugee status last year alone.
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The period of certainty at the border ended on Thursday. After “over two years of transitional arrangements”, the government has decided to “relax the rule of law around refugee status determination” at points of entry, according to a document released by the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Under the previous policy, people arriving illegally at the Canada-US border were temporarily allowed to enter without needing a special permit to start their claim. Asylum-seekers routinely complained the new system caused unnecessary delays and unnecessary suffering.
The reform will allow them to have claims processed more rapidly and better allow them to send their application directly to the country of origin instead of through a third country first.
“We will continue to enforce all existing refugee protection laws and ensure that Canada does not and will not become a safe haven for refugees,” the documents stated.
Canada has received 26,783 asylum applications from people who arrived illegally at border crossings between legal points of entry since May, according to official data. The total includes asylum-seekers who landed on Canadian soil without proper documentation and were ultimately returned to the US.
Other countries, such as Mexico, say the rights of the world’s most vulnerable people are being violated as they are forced to make long, risky journeys in search of asylum, while other western states have also criticized Canada for what they call a welcoming policy towards people who enter illegally.
Canada is currently negotiating a trade deal with the US that includes a provision giving American companies greater legal rights to sue governments if they adopt policies that affect the profitability of a foreign company.
The government said no legal changes are planned for the border but it is considering several other proposals, including a proposal to formalize the rule of law at border points of entry, and to establish a unique legal entity at the Canadian-US border that would be responsible for processing refugee claims for all of the border crossers.
The refugee agency’s chief executive, Chris Friesen, said the new policy “is an improvement for survivors who have had their claims rejected at the border – but it doesn’t address the causes of the problem”.
“From a survivor’s perspective, the rule of law is only relevant when someone needs it for their survival,” he added.