Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Throne speech: Can we expect a signal that we’ll fix our refugee system?

Parliament resumes today following a two-month break and the Conservatives are expected to make a speech from the throne that focuses on the economy and plans to reduce the federal deficit. The throne speech will be delivered by Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean, of course, but is expected lay out the Tory’s economic vision and its plans for job creation, restraining federal spending and innovation.

“I am concerned that some [refugees] appear to be coming to Canada, signing up for social benefits. I think that says to us that people are gaming our system and abusing our generosity, suggesting to us they are not really seeking Canada’s protection but something else.”

– Jason Kenney

The speech is expected to be around 6,000 words and last about 90 minutes—a sharp contract to last year’s throne speech which was only seven minutes long. After the prime minister said his prorogation of parliament was to allow the government time to recalibrate, I hope this speech isn’t just a long verbal back-pat without much substance.

One thing I’d like to see in the throne speech is a signal of some kind that the government plans to overhaul our refugee system. I think Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney hinted there might be when he was interviewed on CTV News yesterday.

Minister Kenney didn’t actually refer to the throne speech, but indicated we would hear soon about changes to the refugee system to deal with the frequent abuses and outright frauds that are encouraged by the overly generous rules under which the system currently operates. The minister was being questioned about reports that seven people from Hungary, Russia and Japan have claimed refugee status after coming to watch the Olympics.

While it isn’t unusual for people attending international sporting events in Canada to make refugee claims, we would not expect them to be from wealthy democracies such as Japan. Or, for that matter, from one of the European Union countries, which provides a choice of 27 mostly rich democracies that offer job opportunities and human rights similar to that available in Canada. Where is the evidence of human rights abuses or persecution of people in those countries? Moreover, Hungarians who feel persecuted in their homeland can easily move to another of the member states and retain full legal status to seek jobs, etc.

One might well ask why it is that Hungary has become such a problem for our refugee system. In 2009, the number of refugee claimants from Hungary were more than 1,350, up from the 285 in 2008 and 24 claimants in 2007. [source] This is similar to the experience with Czech refugee claimants before the government imposed visa restrictions on visitors from that EU member country.

Apparently, Canada has become a target for refugee claimants who are known as Roma or gypsies. And, for some reason, they believe asylum in Canada will provide something not available in any of the 27 EU democracies. However, they do not seem prepared to use our normal immigration procedures as tens of thousands of others do every year.

Curiously, in 2009, 267 claims from asylum seekers from Hungary were finalized . Of those, 259 claims, about 97 per cent, were abandoned or withdrawn. [source]

While in Canada waiting for their claims to be processed—which can take up to 18 months—claimants can receive welfare benefits and work permits. And, if a claim is denied, the Canadian government pays for the claimants’ return to their home country. But, apparently, many of the Hungarians who withdrew or abandoned their claims simply disappeared and were unavailable for deportation.

I have heard the explanation that claims were withdrawn or abandoned because the process takes too long. But that does not hold up to scrutiny because claimants from other countries do not withdraw or abandon their claims at anything like a 97 per cent rate.

No, readers, the system is simply being gamed, with undesirables remaining in our country illegally. And it’s time we put an end to this.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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