Canada’s Troubled Refugee System

Refugee Advocates are Losing Faith in Canada’s Underfunded and Overwhelmed Refugee System

Canada’s refugee system has come under fire over the past year as issues with the country’s refugee system due to the influx of refugees to Canada, resulting in lengthy delays in scheduling a hearing for the claimants. The lack of sufficient staff and resources are primarily the underlying reason, and without sufficient resources, Canada cannot uphold its reputation for having a world-class refugee system.

To get help with Canada’s refugee claims process and navigating the system, contact a refugee law office.

The current backlog in the processing of asylum claims has resulted in significant stress and uncertainty. While immigration law requires asylum seekers to have their claims scheduled for a hearing within 60 days, at the present time, these hearings are being scheduled, only to be cancelled and not rescheduled.  The current backlog is causing lengthy delays—up to 18 months—leaving many in limbo, waiting for their claims will be heard, and whether or not they will face deportation.

The pending number of claims across Canada as of December 2017 was 41,000—more than the combined claims numbers for 2015 and 2016. This increase in claims and the current backlog in the system are also in part due to the large number of asylum seekers who crossed at unofficial Canada-U.S. borders last year, specifically in Quebec. Furthermore, the lack of available Immigrations and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) members to handle these cases in Quebec, especially in Montreal where the majority of Haitian asylum seekers have landed, is of course also contributing to the delay.

There are even doubts that the government’s estimate of an 18-month wait time is possible, given the current backlog and the lack of staff to handle these claims. Some worry it may take years, especially for those who appeal their cases to the Refugee Appeal Division after their initial claims are denied.

During these prolonged wait times, asylum seekers will settle in Canada, despite the uncertainty about their future. They will build lives here, become established, even though it may all be over if their claim is rejected, and they have to return to their home countries where they face violence, poverty, and threats to their lives.

Instead of allocating more resources to the IRB as the number of asylum claims increased in 2017, the government decided to conduct an independent review of the IRB’s operations. But IRB members, especially in Quebec, are under a great amount of pressure as they try to handle the massive backlog of cases. Although some measures have been taken, such as assigning a small number of non-Quebec staff to help with the workload, there are still insufficient resources to effectively handle the massive backlog. Even refugee lawyers in Quebec who accept legal aid cases are overwhelmed and in some cases have been forced to refuse cases.

There has also been some criticism of Canada’s efforts in resettling refugees. A recent example is Canada’s handling of the Yazidi refugees and survivors of ISIS that Canada had promised to resettle by the end of 2017. The Canadian government missed the target deadline due to a ban on international flights at an airport in Iraq close to where most Yazidis are living. However, despite the airport’s ban on international flights, some critics argue that Canada may have been able to find an alternative plan to meet its goal earlier in the year. The refugees that are still being processed are set to arrive in 2018, but once the resettlement target number is met, Canada will not be accepting more applications under this initiative—which is a cause for disappointment among refugee advocates who expected Canada to double its target number for 2018.

For more information and help with asylum claims and appeals, contact a refugee law office.