On the eve of the introduction of important changes to Canada’s refugee determination system, the Canadian Council for Refugees and Amnesty International expressed fear that the system will fail some refugees, violate their rights in Canada, and send them back to persecution.
“The whole purpose of our refugee system is to protect people whose lives and liberty are threatened in their country of origin,” said Loly Rico, President of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “But the new system does not take their realities into account, particularly the realities of the most vulnerable, such as survivors of torture and women who have experienced sexual violence. They may end up being wrongly rejected.”
Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees are concerned that many provisions in this new law violate the UN Refugee Convention and other international human rights instruments. This includes the fact that the law denies refugee claimants from Designated Countries of Origin the right to appeal a negative refugee decision. This constitutes discrimination with respect to access to justice. It is of even greater concern given that some of the countries expected to be designated have records of serious and systematic human rights violations.
“Denying claimants access to an appeal, based solely on the country from which they have come, is unequal and unfair treatment. It may lead to mistakes going uncorrected and refugees being forcibly returned to a risk of persecution, in violation of Canada’s binding non-refoulementobligations under international law,” said Gloria Nafziger of Amnesty International Canada’s English Branch. “This provision will have a particularly harsh impact on refugees who are fleeing persecution that is not well documented or acknowledged by officials, including human rights violations due to their gender or sexual orientation.”
The organizations are also concerned about hasty timelines that deny refugees a fair chance to prove their claims.
Refugee claimants with health issues, perhaps as a consequence of persecution, will have particular challenges in the new system because of the cuts made last summer to the Interim Federal Health Program. Claimants from designated countries of origin will be deprived of basic and emergency health care (other than the treatment of conditions raising public health or safety issues).
“These drastic cuts to refugee health care are discriminatory and blatantly violate Canada’s binding international human rights obligations,” said Béatrice Vaugrante, Director General of Amnesty International Canada francophone. “It is particularly outrageous that individuals with grave, potentially life-threatening health care emergencies will now be denied access to medical coverage simply because of their nationality.”
The CCR and Amnesty International call on all Canadians to raise their voices in support of protecting refugees, in faithfulness to the best Canadian traditions of offering a safe haven to the persecuted and dignity to the oppressed and to press the government to change this law so that it meets international human rights standards.
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