In these extraordinary times, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) is deeply concerned by the federal government’s decision to bar refugees at Canada-US border. We urge the Prime Minister to reconsider.
The government had earlier announced a sensible plan to ensure safe housing and quarantine for refugees crossing in to Canada during the COVID-19 crisis. That plan worked for public health and for refugee protection, and was in keeping with the United Nations refugee agency’s directives on respecting human rights while fighting the pandemic.[i] The vast majority of refugees were crossing at a specific location, and this ensured orderly processing into the refugee system, and fulsome application of public health measures.
We simply did not have to choose between tackling the pandemic and upholding human rights: we can and should do both.
If this policy is maintained, even in the short term, the federal government must secure firm assurances that refugee claimants who are turned back at the border and into ICE custody, are not returned to their country of persecution, nor placed into immigration detention – especially given the enhanced risk of COVID-19 in that country’s overcrowded detention centres. Canada should also commit that such claimants will be able to return to the border after the crisis is over, without prejudice to their ability to seek refugee protection in this country.