January 9, 2019 – Canada immigration minister Ahmed Hussen is confident the resources are in place to tackle a backlog of tens of thousands of asylum claims.
The Immigration and Refugee Board, which hears asylum cases, has 64,000 claims awaiting a decision. Nearly 35,000 of these claims are from irregular border crossers from the U.S.
It means claimants face a near two year wait for a decision.
Hussen says that by appointing many more judges and hiring more staff, cases can be dealt with more quickly ‘without compromising a fair due process’.
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A recent independent review highlighted several problems with a system that has historically failed to cope with asylum claim spikes, causing a growing backlog.
An important recommendation of the review was to bring it under the authority of the immigration minister, although many are keen for it to remain independent.
Changes are yet to take place in response to the recommendations, with the IRB given time to tackle the problems on its own.
It recently announced a task force to focus on less complex cases, and established an asylum management board to speed up processing by improving co-ordination.
Hussen says changes mean the board can now finalize 50 per cent more cases.
There are plans to hire nearly 250 more employees over the next two years, including 64 new judges.
The existing backlog was partly a result of changes under the previous Conservative government, which left many IRB vacancies and ‘also tried to hit the delete button in 2012 and created this massive backlog of legacy refugees as well as many others who are waiting for hearings for five years or more,” Hussen said.
The influx of irregular border crossers began in summer 2017, when U.S. President Donald Trump first threatened the Temporary Protected Status of thousands of Central and South Americans.
July and August 2017 saw the most irregular border crossers in the last two years, with 3,134 and 5,712 respectively crossing the border at unrecognized points.
Trump has continually said he would end TPS status for specific nationality groups. TPS is given to people from countries affected by war or environmental disasters, as part of a program established in the 1990s.
The border crossers choose to cross at unrecognized points due to the Safe Third Country Agreement.
The agreement says asylum seekers must apply for refugee status in the country where they land.
As a result, if the so-called irregular border crossers presented themselves at recognized border crossing points, they would be turned away.
Many are therefore blaming the agreement for forcing would-be asylum seekers to cross at unrecognized points.
Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requires the countries considered ‘safe’ to be continually reviewed.
Government efforts to tackle the problem have centred around an information campaign.
The central message is that there is no guarantee of being allowed to stay in Canada for those crossing the border.
The overwhelming majority of those crossing the border have flooded into Quebec, where provincial officials have called on the federal government to pick up the bill for expenditure related to the issue.
The federal government is spreading those that arrive out across Canada to try and ease the burden on the French-speaking province.
However, out of the 18,139 who have arrived in 2018, 17,276, or 95 per cent, came into Quebec, mainly via crossing point at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle.
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