Call for amnesty for legacy refugee claimants

At this time of  year when we greet one another with the Christmas message of  peace and  goodwill, I would like to address the plight of  those who are called the legacy  refugee  claimants –  persons who have  filed claims for refugee protection before  December 2012 and have not yet had a hearing.

When the former Conservative government of Canada  re-assessed the refugee determination system and introduced guidelines or timetables for the hearing of new claims, there may  well have  been over  5,600 legacy claims. The new system was intended to accelerate the removal of rejected claimants and to clear the backlog. But cases were not heard in the scheduled time. So the backlog kept growing.

Let’s look at the situation today.

The enormous backlog of cases has grown at the rate of approximately 1,400 cases per month since January 2017 with the highest numbers in August which saw a further jump to 3,000 claims.

While the present law requires cases to be scheduled for a hearing in 60 days, the process  can be  delayed for several reasons such as for the issuing of  security clearances or because of the lack of interpreters or counsel

I recently represented a client  in  a case which was scheduled for a hearing several months ago. The hearing did not proceed as the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) did not receive any security clearance from the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the matter was adjourned indefinitely. My client may have to wait another year or so for a hearing.

It is estimated that by the end of this year  the number of  refugee  claimants waiting for a hearing may exceed 37,000. This vast increase of claimants was undoubtedly the result  of  this year’s illegal border crossings from the United States, driven by the threats from President Donald Trump of mass deportation  of  undocumented immigrants, prompting thousands of them to seek refuge in Canada with the hope of remaining permanently in the country.

Many legacy asylum seekers have been living and working in Canada for over five years and have established roots in this country.  The longer they wait for their hearing, there are less chances they will be accepted because they may have a lapse in memory which may ultimately affect their credibility at the hearing.  Also, and most importantly, there may be country and government changes that may affect their claim for state protection. Also, it may be difficult to locate potential witnesses to provide documents, statement or other evidence because of the lengthy passage of time since they filed  their claims.

I represent some of these legacy claimants and from my knowledge, they are now well established in Canada. They have obtained permanent employment, pay income taxes and other statutory deductions to the government, have close family members, and are integrated in their community both financially, spiritually and socially.

Why  then  does the  government continue this lengthy  process when both the IRB and the Canadian government know that  delays may affect the outcome and decisions given to these people, after hearing their claims?

Let’s face it: The delays were in no way caused by these claimants. Yet, they suffer the negative consequence of  such delays.  I would  therefore strongly suggest that a special relief program be implemented so that  these persons will be  able to obtain their status through an amnesty. It would be unjust to simply have these persons lingering in limbo and then use the time delays (and its repercussions) as an excuse to remove them from Canada.

Both the Canadian Council for Refugees and Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers have called on the Federal Government to introduce some form of amnesty to legacy claimants to allow them to move on with their lives. But this request to date has fallen on deaf  ears.

I am also making a plea to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, on behalf of these legacy claimants to allow them to remain in Canada. Not only will this alleviate enormous stresses and costs to all those involved.  Bestowing an amnesty on those deserving cases, will help fulfill the mandate of an economic and multicultural society.

Dear Minister of Citizenship, Refugee and Immigration, kindly consider my plea and act accordingly.

I would like to extend my best wishes to all my readers for this holiday season and for a happy and prosperous New Year.

SUKHRAM RAMKISSOON is a member of ICCRC and specializes in Immigration Matters at No. 3089 Bathurst Street, Suite 219 A, Toronto Ontario. MSA 2A4. Phone 416 789 5756.