Fear, Misinformation Fuels Refugee Influx

Irwin Block, Montreal Gazette, October 12, 2007

Fear of a crackdown in the United States and misinformation on non-existent “special programs” are behind a recent influx of Mexican and Haitian refugees seeking asylum in Canada.

“The government of Canada is quite concerned, and we’re taking the situation very seriously,” said Marina Wilson, a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada in Ottawa.

Both the government and the Montreal-based Canadian Council for Refugees put part of the blame on “misleading” information on special programs provided by the Jerusalem Haitian Community Centre of Naples, Fla.

According to Janet Dench, Canadian Council for Refugees executive director, the centre was running “a scam” for help in filling out documents and charging up to $400 for the service.

Others are coming to Canada because they have seen U.S. authorities clamp down on illegal aliens living in the U.S. or believe they will have a better chance of asylum in Canada, she added.

But it’s hardly a “tsunami” as one news report claimed since in August, Dench said. Less than one in 20 refugee claims from Mexicans are made at border crossings. Most are made at airport or are made from inside Canada.

In August Haitians were the top figure at at the U.S. border overland.

Rick Goldman, co-ordinator of the Committee to Aid Refugees here, said he’s getting daily calls from the U.S. and “they almost all fear a crackdown that seems to be taking place in the United States aimed at illegal immigrants living there.”

“They are looking for a place where they can seek asylum and live legally and openly.”

The result is more Haitian and Mexican refugee claimants crossing the border at Windsor, Ont. and St. Bernard de Lacolle and putting additional strain on welfare agencies.

Immigration and Refugee Board figures show that 4,260 Mexican nationals applied for refugee station across Canada in the first eight months, compared to 2,885 during the same period last year.

Mexico remains the top source for refugees, rising steadily from 1,423 for 2000 to 4,914 last year.

A total of 1,467 Haitians claimed refugee status during the first eight months, compared to only 363 during the same period last year.

Quebec is projecting a maximum of 9,000 refugee claimants overall this year, which is more than in the last two previous years but less than the 10,195 who applied in 2002.

While there are no special program, nationals from Haiti are among those from eight countries to which Canada has temporarily suspended removals.

Once they arrive here, it can take up to 14 months for the Immigration and Refugee Board to decide if a claim is legitimate. In the interim they are entitled to emergency medical care, temporary work permits or temporary financial assistance, education for children.

Mexico, Haiti and Columbia are the top sources for refugee claimants across Canada and in Quebec in that order. Last year China held the number two spot across Canada, while in Quebec it was nationals from India.

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