According To A Newly Released Report, Canada Is Breaking International Humanitarian Law
The new report by MSF Canada, “The Less Told Migration Story and its Humanitarian Consequences,” asks what happened to people’s right to move. International law has recognized the right of people to seek asylum in other countries since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948. This right was further codified in 1951 in the Refugee Convention and is part of International Humanitarian Law.
Despite the existence of a legal framework under which people can seek asylum, people who try to flee their war-torn country or leave from other persecutions still face perilous journeys as well as suffer health and psychological harm as a result of those journeys. MSF reports that the resources available to care for refugees are inadequate and, rather than meeting the challenge of caring for refugees and asylum seekers as required by international law seekers, certain European countries, Australia, the United States, and Canada are finding ways to close their borders and make it harder for people to come to their countries.
Refugees face a double-jeopardy situation. The externalization of borders has made it almost impossible for someone to reach countries through regular channels like flight. People are stopped by stringent visa requirements and “integrity officers” at airports whose job it is to fend off “unwanted migrants.” If refugees then turn to irregular channels that rely on smugglers, they not only face danger from the trip as well as from the smugglers, but also face interdiction measures in the countries they land in, such as detention and being returned to the country they fled because of the route they chose to enter that country.
Unfortunately, Canada has adopted detention as a method for dealing with refugees. MSF reports that the Canadian government has created a policy of mandatory detention for all those who are deemed to be “irregular arrivals.” Furthermore, against international law, refugees may be placed in criminal detention centres whenever there no space in the Immigration Holding Centres run by the Canadian Border Services.
Placing refugees, which the MSF says are a low-risk, non-criminal population, in criminal detention centres further harms them by putting them in an environment where they are vulnerable and which lacks adequate mental health support for those who have suffered trauma. MSF is concerned that Canada allows for indefinite detention for migrants and reminds Canada to use detention as a last step resort. MSF reports that there is still no adequate mechanism that is legal and safe for people to seek asylum in Canada. Canada should stay consistent in following humanitarian and refugee law and respect the rights of asylum seekers.