Media release Racism

Media release: Canada delivers blow to refugee rights on World Refugee Day

Unite Against Racism contingent at the Walk With Refugees in Halifax on June 16th. Contributed

For immediate release

Halifax, NS (June 25, 2019) – On June 20th, World Refugee Day, the Liberal government passed their omnibus budget bill (C-97), which includes reforms to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Since April, civil society groups throughout the country have denounced these changes as an underhanded attack on refugee and migrant rights, and have demanded that they be rescinded. 

C-97 introduces major changes to Canada’s refugee determination system. Asylum-seekers who’ve previously filed a refugee claim in a country with whom Canada has an information-sharing agreement would be prohibited from seeking protection here. Currently, the list includes the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and most notably the U.S. If deemed ineligible based on this criteria, applicants would not have access to a full hearing in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB)-an independent tribunal and hallmark of Canada’s refugee protection regime. They would have access only to a government administered Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA), which has had an extremely low acceptance rate . 

The Liberal government has also signalled its intention to expand the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) which prohibits most asylum claims at Canada’s official ports of entry via the US. Civil society groups have long called for an end to the agreement, insisting that the U.S. is not a safe or fair country for refugees. The Liberal government want the STCA changed so that it also covers asylum-seekers crossing the Canada-U.S border irregularly.  

Both measures are part of the Liberal government’s “tough on immigration” position with respect to the Canada-U.S. border. Thirteen local groups sent an open letter to Halifax MP Andy Fillmore on May 14, urging him to “stand up for justice and to say no to the racism and xenophobia which these proposed changes represent.” 

These changes come at a time when attacks against refugees and migrants in the U.S. have intensified. 

Yesterday, the bodies of Salvadorean migrant Oscar Martinez, 25, and his 2 year old daughter Valeria Martinez were found in the Rio Grande, south of Brownsville, Texas. According to wife and mother Tania Avalos, 21, the family became desperate and decided to cross the border, after having waited in Mexico for 2 months for an appointment to seek political asylum in the U.S. Under Trump’s practice of “metering” at ports of entry, thousands of people have been forced to wait in dangerous Mexican border cities before they can request asylum. 

“Trump is violating refugee rights with this practice,” said Stacey Gomez of No One Is Illegal – Halifax. She added: “The US-Mexico border has become ground zero for Trump’s war against refugees and migrants, and Canada is complicit. Instead of stepping up by welcoming more refugees, Canada has followed suit by shuttering our doors too.”

Last week’s UNHCR Global Trends report indicates that “Developing regions continued to shoulder a disproportionately large responsibility for hosting refugees. The Least Developed Countries… hosted 6.7 million refugees, 33 per cent of the global total.” Turkey topped the list, hosting 3.7 million refugees in 2018. 

Despite a large backlog of refugee claims, Canada’s acceptance rate of asylum-seekers dropped 4.5 per cent since last year. 

Last month, the United Nations asked Canada to do its part and resettle some of the most vulnerable Central American refugees in Mexico, particularly women, children and LGBTQ people. However, Ottawa has yet to respond. 

Media contact: Stacey Gomez,