Special measures urgently needed for “forgotten” refugees: the legacy claimants
The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), and the Canadian Association of Refugees Lawyers (CARL) today called on the government to introduce measures to bring justice to approximately 5,600 refugee claimants who have been waiting for a hearing since 2012, because they made claims under the previous refugee determination regime.
“People have been living in a state of insecurity, with their lives on hold for five years or more, because Canada has failed to give them a hearing on their refugee claim,” said Loly Rico, CCR President. “Families are separated, young people can’t pursue their education, no one can get on with their life – and there is no resolution in sight. Fairness requires that we give them the opportunity to regularize their status in Canada without delay.”
The so-called “legacy claimants” are people who made a refugee claim before December 15, 2012, when changes were made to the refugee determination system. Their claims have been treated as lowest priority for scheduling. At the end of 2016, 5,582 were still waiting for a hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Only 678 legacy claims were finalized in 2016: at that rate, it will take over 8 years to hear all the “legacy” claimants.
The following are some examples of the impacts on affected individuals:
- For over 5 years a woman has been anxiously awaiting her refugee hearing so that she can reunite with her young daughter who is still in her country of origin. The daughter, now 11 years old, has been living with her grandmother, but the grandmother's health has now deteriorated so that she can no longer care for her granddaughter.
- A gay man has been longing to earn a B. Ed and work as a teacher: he can’t do this while a refugee claimant. The long wait has driven him to consider abandoning his claim, even though it would mean he would have to “forget that I’m gay”. “I wasn’t given the chance to heal here.”
- A mother arrived in Canada in 2012 pregnant and with a one year old: she has been acting as a single parent since that time. Her partner can’t join her in Canada until her status is resolved. She worries that her children, now aged five and six, do not know their father. She states she is suffering “every day”, feeling alone and unsupported.
- The five-year wait has driven one man to feelings of profound loneliness and depression. He is separated from his wife and children: he is missing a huge part of his children’s lives, while his wife is forced to bring them up alone. She resents the situation and does not understand why it is taking so long: he fears it will end in divorce. He is working hard and supporting his family (he has paid over $25,000 in taxes over the last 3 years) but without status he cannot get a job that corresponds to his potential (he has an MA).
The longer people wait for a refugee hearing, the less chance they have of being accepted as refugees. Over time, circumstances in the country of origin change, so that people who were refugees when they made the claim may now not be accepted.
Special measures for legacy claimants make good economic sense: it would mean sparing the cost of refugee hearings. Taking legacy claims out of the refugee determination system will also help to ensure that the system does not become backlogged.
“In the name of both fairness and efficiency, we ask the government to urgently enact special measures for the legacy claimants,” said CARL President, Mitchell Goldberg. “Thousands of claims could therefore be processed though a humanitarian and compassionate stream that do not require time-consuming IRB hearings.”
With refugee claims increasing in recent months, the proposed special measures would enable the government to improve efficiency in the system, at a critical juncture: it’s a win-win for individuals who have been affected, and for the system as a whole.
People in the legacy claim backlog have established themselves in Canada and are contributing to the Canadian economy and to local communities. Children who are in Canada have become integrated into their schools. The special measures being proposed would focus on people’s establishment in the community instead of re-visiting their original reason for seeking Canada’s protection.
For a year, the CCR has been urging the government to introduce special measures to allow these claimants to apply for permanent residence. There is precedent for such measures: the Deferred Removal Order Class (DROC), introduced November 1994, responded to people refused as refugees. CCR and CARL are proposing a similar process for the legacy claimants: the rationale in the legacy case is even stronger, since these individuals have not yet had a hearing.
For the CCR proposal, see http://ccrweb.ca/en/legacy-cases-recommendation-regularization
Colleen French, Communication and Networking Coordinator, Canadian Council for Refugees (514) 277-7223, ext. 1, (514) 602-2098 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org
Mitchell Goldberg, President, Canadian Association of Refugees Lawyers, (514) 808-0843