Beginning on Dec. 15, foreign nationals making refugee claims in Canada will be divided into two groups, depending upon whether their country of origin is considered a genuine refugee producing country.
The announcement was made yesterday in Ottawa by Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. The changes will see refugee claimants processed differently depending upon their country of origin. These changes have already been passed into law by The Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act.
The laws allow the government to create a class of designated countries of origin (DCO). Countries that will be designated under this category will be those that are democratic, that respect human rights, and that offer state protection to its citizens. Countries in the European Union and the United States are expected to be placed into this category. Refugee claimants who come from DCOs will be processed differently than those who make claims from legitimate refugee producing countries.
All refugee claimants will be entitled to a full hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) as is presently the case. But claimants from countries considered to be refugee producing countries will be able to appeal a negative decision to the newly created Refugee Appeal Division (RAD). Although creating an appeal division has been discussed since the current system came into effect on Jan. 1, 1989, this will be the first time a failed claimant will have access to an appeal. The RAD can consider not only errors of law but the facts of the case and will have the power to reverse the previous decision.
Persons who come from a country that is a DCO will not be able to appeal to the RAD.
It is expected that with these changes, hearings will be held within 60 days from the time the claim is referred to the IRB. Currently the time it takes to hold a hearing is up to 600 days. It is also expected claimants from DCO countries will have hearings within 30 to 45 days of making the claim.
The government is hoping to remove all failed claimants from Canada within a year of their claims being rejected. Currently it takes about four-and-one-half years before a person can be removed from Canada.
In making the announcement, Kenney said, "Sixty-two percent of all asylum claims—and virtually all asylum claims for the European Union—were either abandoned or withdrawn by the claimants themselves or rejected by the IRB last year. It became abundantly clear that our system needed to be changed. These changes will move our asylum system from one that allows bogus claimants to rely on loopholes and redundant appeals to delay their removals for several years, to a system that hears claims quickly and removes bogus claimants faster. This is in the best interest of Canada, and of legitimate refugees. Canada's asylum system is one of the most generous in the world and will continue to be under the new and improved system."
Critics claim some groups of people in countries considered safe can be subjected to persecution. Janet Dench, of the Canadian Council of Refugees, is quoted in the Toronto Star as saying, "In many countries that seem peaceful and safe, particular minority groups face serious problems of persecution, discrimination and violence, often with the participation of state officials."
The Saskatoon Star Phoenix notes that the largest refugee producing country has been Hungary. According to Kenney, claims from Hungary dropped 90% since last July when health benefits given to refugee claimants were changed.
The list of DCOs will be made available on Dec. 15.