September 13, 2017

Impact of Escalating Refugee Influx to Canada’s Refugee System Complex, Multi-Faceted and Potential Source of Conflict

Posted by Mario Bellissimo - Bellissimo Law Group PC

In my last blog, Huge Influxes of Refugees to Canada is Not New but the Numbers May Be!” continued a discussion we had on CTV’s Your Morning with a focus on potential Salvadoran refugees.   As has been widely reported, the large volume of irregular crossings, mainly Haitian, at the Canadian border so far has resulted in Canadian Officials setting up a temporary welcome centre in Montreal at the Olympic Stadium amongst other locations, as the shelters in Montreal are already full.[1] As noted, the number of Salvadorans effected by the potential policy change in the United States (U.S.) to not renew the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation that prevents foreign nationals from being removed based upon certain eligibility criteria far exceeds the Haitian population.[2]  An estimated 200 000 Salvadorans face deportation in the U.S. and this is in addition to a total of ten countries that are effected by the potential policy change in the U.S., meaning that people from 8 other countries may follow suit in addition to Haitians if the Salvadorans also attempt to cross at the border.[3]

Assumptions That a Large Influx Will Enter Canada Are Well Founded

The expiry for the TPS country designation for all of these countries is quickly approaching.  Certain practical realities will inform the impact on Canada based upon three key assumptions (1) a certain percentage will flee to Canada, (2) they will enter irregularly and (3) will seek out protected person status.  These assumptions are in my opinion well founded for the following reasons:

  • Based upon conditions in many of these countries, the vulnerability of these individuals – they are registered and known to the U.S. government, many are long standing U.S. residents with American children and are possible extortion candidates upon a return to their country of origin given the widely held perception after a long sojourn abroad they have considerable assets – they will look to options other than a return;[4]
  • Canada’s international reputation as a country of invitation has been bolstered in the past few years. Since November 2015, over 40 000 Syrians have been welcomed into Canada and earlier, Prime Minister Justice Trudeau, in contrast to President Donald Trump, sent out a tweet saying that Canada would welcome people fleeing prosecution – “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada”;
  • Without any change to the Safe Third Country Canada, and a change is not expected, those fleeing will continue to enter irregularly so they can make a claim;
  • Some of the false media campaigns about the immediate benefits of entering Canada through the refugee stream may persist and
  • It is unlikely those seeking migration to Canada that would qualify for immigration pathways would be processed in time to escape the suspension of the TPS and fears of imminent removal from the United States even if they applied in advance.

So, absent an extension of the TPS program (perhaps given the environmental challenges the U.S. is currently facing, this may now be more of a possibility) or some other unforeseen circumstances Canada will likely continue to see a large influx of foreign nationals entering Canada.  There is little doubt the impact will be complex, multi-faceted and a potential source of conflict.

Refugee influx at the best of times can be polarising with visceral reactions on many sides of the debate.  According to a report by CTV, not all Syrian refugees have successfully settled into Canada, dealing with language barriers and unemployment, which is not unexpected.[5] The arrival and settlement of these refugees was planned for and supported by the Canadian Government. The possible arrival of even larger numbers perhaps five times as many than the Syrian refugees, would require an extraordinary and unprecedented response.  So, what are the potential implications to Canada’s refugee and immigration systems?

Serious Implications to Refugee Structure

As discussed processing centres have been set up on the border in Quebec to make it easier for officials to deal with the foreign nationals as they enter Canada. The Prime Minister has said that Canada has the resources and capacity to deal with the number of Haitians that have crossed the border. But what about the potential increase?

The latest on-line figures from the Immigration and Refugee Board (Refugee Protection Division) lists a pending inventory combining new and legacy claims at about 26,500.[6]  This number could be a drop in the bucket in light of the numbers we are facing.   Simply put, the system was not designed to process this number of cases.  Inevitably we could face a crisis of delay that I spoke to on CTV’s Your Morning meaning that the processing of cases could take years with all the consequential effects on the system and the foreign nationals, while awaiting an outcome to their claim.  Worse yet, many may not qualify for protected person status in Canada because of their lengthy sojourn in the United States.   Therefore, after a potential lengthy delay in Canada the foreign nationals will be processed to removal rather than to protected person status.

It is likely a good number of these foreign nationals would be eligible for immigration streams to Canada including economic, work or study.  If many of these claims are economic in nature they will not meet the requirements of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) for protected person status and may jeopardize an application under an otherwise appropriate category.  This is an unfortunate outcome both for the functioning of the refugee system in Canada and the foreign nationals who may have been directed to claim as a measure of last resort with an outcome that may not be what they were expecting.  Clearly, serious implications that may make this influx different from many of the mass influxes of the past.

Implications to Other Claimants

With resources diverted to managing this influx Canada’s response to others in need of protection within and outside Canada will also have to be readjusted.  This impact will be felt both to the domestic as well international protected person programs in terms of processing, resource allocation and responsiveness.  The effects could be wide ranging and long lasting.

Multi-Faceted Impact on Other Programs/Parts of the System

Other facets of the refugee, immigration and appellate structures will also be impacted.  Individuals will likely apply for in land immigration programs and seek redress through the appellate system if their claims/cases are refused and therefore the volume, processing times and resource allocation will be implicated.  In short, once in Canada and lawful requests are made, the system has to process these cases to finalization.   So, programs and departments beyond front line responders – Canada Border Services Agency and the Refugee Protection Division – will be called upon to process the influx.

Source of Conflict

The key questions for many will become – how long would it take to properly process all of these potential claimants and what will be the cost? The general processing time for a refugee claim is around 16 months – this can be expected to go up significantly depending on how many more irregular border crossings we see in the coming months.[7] During the Council for the Federation talks in Edmonton in July, premiers discussed these issues and requested additional funding and long-term planning to deal with the increasing wait times and refugee claims.[8] Whether or not the Government obliges or develops a different plan altogether remains to be seen.

Canada’s recent response to international crisis has been admirable and many of the crises continue to evolve and require the appropriate international response.  Canadians have for the most part been supportive of the efforts but sentiment can quickly change and could become a source of conflict depending upon the impact to the system.  Thus, we need to avoid a crisis of delay. In my third blog, I will add my suggestions to the debate as to a number of potential measures that could assist to ensure we help those that we can, reposition eligible foreign nationals to other immigration pathways and safeguard the system we have in place to avoid a collapse under the weight of a mass influx.   At that point, the needs of the many will overcome the needs of any, contrary to what the system was set up to do.