When Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced sweeping reforms to Canada's refugee determination process at the end of March, he promised to increase the number of UN-selected refugees that resettle in Canada by 2,500 to maintain "balance."
But despite a persistent notion that Canada is a generous country that graciously welcomes thousands of refugees each year, Citizenship and Immigration Canada records show the Conservative government has been gradually but significantly granting fewer refugees permanent residence status since 2006. The decrease worries experts and advocates, who say the government is trying to quietly close refugees out.
Each year, CIC prepares an immigration plan as part of its plans and priorities, highlighting permanent residency targets for different categories of migrants. Government-assisted refugees, privately-sponsored refugees, inland refugees and their dependants abroad make up the overall refugee category.
In 2006, the department projected granting a minimum of 32,800 refugees permanent residency. In 2010, that target had decreased by 40 per cent, to 19,600. In addition, the targets for inland refugees—those who made claims at the Canadian border and were accepted by the Immigration and Refugee Board—decreased by 54 per cent, from a minimum of 19,500 in 2006 to 9,000 in 2010. The latter number may in fact be even lower since, for the first time, it also includes dependants abroad (family members of already-accepted refugees).
The department's yearly performance reports, which shows actual refugee intake numbers, also reflected the drop. A total of 32,492 refugees became permanent residents in 2006, while only 21,800 fit that description in 2008 — a 32.7 per cent decrease. Inland refugees saw a decrease of 56 per cent, from 15,892 in 2006 to 6,994 in 2008.
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"I think [these numbers] reflect the overall closing of the doors on refugees, and it reflects that priority has increasingly been given to economic immigrants over family class and refugees," Ms. Dench said. "This highlights the contradiction between facts and discourse that the government has been pursuing, and it reflects the effort of the government of preventing refugees to make a claim."
Mr. Kenney's promise to increase by 2,500 the number of UN-approved refugees — which are represented as government-assisted and privately-sponsored refugees in CIC figures — is meant to deflect attention away from the overall decreasing numbers, alleged Tom Abel, settlement worker at the Toronto-based Romero House, a non-profit organization providing housing and advocating for refugees.
"Quite frankly, the Conservatives' intention is to lower the number of refugees coming in this country," Mr. Abel said. "This has been the predominant opinion of practitioners in Toronto and I think around the country."
Mr. Abel also said Canadians are dealing with "an archaic" understanding of Canada's worldwide refugee role.
"I honestly think that the government is being quite successful in gradually creating a system where people cannot make refugee claims in Canada," he said. "They are not overtly going to take any action to stop refugee claimants from coming to Canada, but they are going to work into it in a way that won't stir up negative public sentiment and will not raise suspicions in Canadians' minds that the government is giving up on its humanitarian traditions."
Read this excellent article here.