Mexico Top Source Of Refugee Applicants

Celeste Mackenzie, Globe and Mail, July 11, 2006

Ottawa—More than 3,500 Mexicans asked Ottawa for political asylum last year, making the free-trade partner Canada’s largest source for refugee claimants for the first time.

But Canadian officials didn’t believe 81 per cent of the claims—there were more approvals for refugees from Colombia and China.

A sample of Immigration and Refugee Board decisions on Mexicans shows claims of domestic abuse; state failure to ensure protection; persecution due to sexual preference; and threats from security forces and organized crime. No statistics are kept on why claims are accepted or rejected, but many are believed to be simply seeking better working and living conditions.

“Many do apply, often at the suggestion of unscrupulous immigration consultants, who, depending on the price, will concoct a whole story and documentation for them,” said refugee advocate Francisco Rico, co-director of the FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto.

Mr. Rico said that because these sorts of cases largely fail, they bring suspicion on Mexicans who really need asylum.

“Canadian authorities judge Mexicans much harsher than claimants from other countries and put a greater onus on them to produce more thorough documentation,” he said.

Both Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department noted no overall improvement in human-rights protection during Vicente Fox’s presidency, which began in 2000.

A U.S. report noted a marked increase in violence related to narcotics trafficking and said violence against women is a problem across Mexico. Police torture was noted in both reports, and Amnesty said the judicial system fails to protect the rights of victims of crime and suspects. Attacks and harassment of homosexuals were also reported.

The cases are notably different from what was going on before 2000, said Peter Showler of the University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre.

Mr. Showler said there were many more claims of political persecution under the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which held an iron grip on power for more than 70 years.

“Now the claims tend to refer to the state’s failure to protect–often in cases of criminality and organized crime, when someone for example, has somehow come into disfavour with authorities and criminals,” Mr. Showler said.

Benjamin Santamaria is familiar with that scenario. The Toronto author and former Mexican human-rights ombudsman was granted refugee status after receiving death threats related to a case he was investigating. The accused were friends of state officials, and involved in drug trafficking.

He bemoans the “false refugees” who make up stories or pretend to be gay and under threat.

“This is a pure lie. Homosexuals are discriminated against, harassed and even robbed, but that their lives are in danger and the only solution is to leave the country is a farce,” Mr. Santamaria said. “Those who really need protection in Mexico and Latin America in general often have no idea about asylum and how to request it, much less the money needed to buy a plane ticket to Canada.”

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