Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past months, you are already aware of the devastating effects of the civil war in Syria on its population. Syrians are fleeing en masse their country, seeking refuge where they can. Bordering states are flooded with refugees, while waves of refugees attempt to reach Europe hoping for stability and security. The Syrian refugee crisis has produced many tragedies;  the most well-known here is probably the story of a family who tried to reach Canada but died in the process. Canada’s response to the crisis has been dismal and shameful, especially considering our past responses to similar crisis (the Vietnamese one for example). The new Liberal government is under a lot of pressure to change the situation. Trudeau has already promised to welcome 25 000 Syrian refugees before the end of the year, which gives me hope that the government attitudes towards the crisis will improve.
Sometime I am very proud of being Canadian, especially when we claim the moral high ground while blatantly disregarding basic international law norms. Do as I say, not as I do. For those who didn’t catch the sarcasm, this post does not talk about nationalistic pride. Instead it will explore briefly a major failure of our refugee and immigration system. This failure, I fear, is far from being the only one; it just so happens that we were made aware of it unlike most removed refugee claimants’ cases. The case I am referring to is the one of Adel Benhmuda and his family. Originally from Libya, he claimed refugee status in Canada in 2000, an application that was rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) in 2003. The government began removal procedure in 2008. Adel applied for a Pre-removal risk assessment, a procedure supposed to ensure that the removee will not be at risk of torture, cruel or unusual treatment, or death. The application was dismissed by an immigration officer and he was removed to Libya where he was detained upon arrival. He was subsequently tortured. He managed to smuggle his family out and claimed refugee status in Malta. Status was granted and Adel is now trying to come back to Canada.
The past decade has not been kind to migrants. The events of 9/11 added extra hurdles to immigration process as immigration authorities’ paranoia grew. Western countries’ hospitality is much colder as xenophobia increased fuelled by right wing political groups such as the Tea Party in the USA, the Front National in France or the Conservatives in Canada and the UK. In Canada, since the election of the conservative government of Prime Minister Harper, we have adopted a series of reforms in immigration and refugee law. The focused is now on so called “desirable” migrants, usually people with education and language proficiencies in English or French. Inadmissibility rules continue to prohibit family from reuniting, disabled and sick migrants from settling, and otherwise qualified migrants with tenuous link to alleged terrorist groups from immigrating. Parliament adopted the so called Balanced Refugee Reform Act in 2010 making it harder for refugees to seek protection in Canada. Additionally, Refugees’ access to health care was cut by the federal government. Many of those changes are being or will be challenged in court. Whether these challenges will succeed is hard to predict as the Supreme Court has tended to be deferential towards the government on immigration and refugee issues. Two cases handed down in the last two months may shed some light on what the future holds for refugee and immigration law.
We are all aware (hopefully) that the human rights situation, especially for LGBTQ people, is highly variable around the world. Many means of advocating for changes in countries with less enviable situations than ours (and by ours I mean Canada specifically but the global west generally) make me uneasy as they are often tainted with imperialism and colonialism, even if unconsciously (homonationalism). Beside direct interventions and other saviour type interventions, one thing that can help and does not require forcing western values on developing countries is welcoming and protecting refugees. It is the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, adopted in the aftermath of the Second World War as a reaction to States who turned back Jewish and other refugees, that establish the prohibition to return refugees to their country of origin (the obligation is called non-refoulement). Crucial to this obligation on State is the determination of refugee status which is done mainly by the State of refuge in accordance with the Convention or by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In Canada it is the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that governs refugee status. This post looks at recent problems encountered by Mexican queer refugees within the refugee determination system of Canada. Mainly it looks at the impact of perceived state protection, as exemplified by X (Re), 2012 CanLII 91398, and of Designated countries of origin.