MS Risk Blog

Asylum Seekers in Canada After Fleeing US Policy Now Trapped in Legal Limbo

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Officials are reporting that thousands of people who fled to Canada in a bid to escape US President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal migrants have now become trapped in legal limbo because of an overburdened refuge system, struggling to find work, permanent housing or enrol their children in schools.

According to previously unpublished Immigration and Refugee Board data, refugee claims are now taking longer to be completed than at any time in the past five years, with a report indicating that those wait times are set to grow longer after the IRB in April allocated “up to half” of its 127 tribunal members to focus on old cases. The number of delayed hearings more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, and is now on track to increase again this year. Such hearings are critical to establishing a claimant’s legal status in Canada. Without the status, they will struggle to convince employees to hire them or landlords to rent to them. Claimants also cannot access loans or student financial aid, or update academic or professional credentials in order to meet Canadian standards.

Officials have indicated that Canada’s refuge system was already struggling to process thousands of applications even before 3,500 asylum seekers began crossing the US border on foot in January. The IRB has disclosed that it lacks the manpower to complete security screenings for claimants and hear cases in a timely manner, adding that often there are not enough tribunal members to decide cases or interpreters to attend hearings. According to IRB data, more than 4,500 hearings that were scheduled in the first four months of this year were cancelled. The government is now focused on clearing a backlog of about 24,000 claimants, including people who filed claims in 2012 or earlier. This effectively means that more than 15,000 people who have filed claims so far this year, including the new arrivals from the US, will have to wait even longer in order for their cases to be heard. Asylum cases are already taking longer to finalize, on average, than at any time since Canada introduced a statutory two-month limit in 2012. This year, it has been taking on average 5.6 months for asylum cases to be finalized, compared to 3.6 months in 2012.

In a bid to try to speed cases through, Canada’s refugee tribunal has put people from certain war-torn countries, such as Yemen and Syria, on an expedited track ,which requires no hearings. Scott Bardsley, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who oversees the Canada Border Services Agency, disclosed that borders agents are working overtime in a bid to address the backlog in security screenings.

According to government statistics, this year is on track to be the highest year for refugee claims since at least 2011. The stresses on the Canadian system mirror those of other countries with an open door policy. In Sweden, rising financial strains involved in resettlement were partly behind a move to introduce tough new asylum laws.