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Eine Frau geht an einer Weltkarte, die aus Kinderporträts besteht, am Freitag (18.06.2010) im JuniorMuseum in Köln vorbei.

18.10.2013 | Von:
Jennifer Elrick

Refuge and Asylum

Although Canada signed the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to Refugees and its 1967 Protocol in 1969, the Immigration Act of 1976 was the first law to regulate refugee determination procedure in the country.

Schiff mit Flüchtlingen auf dem Weg von Sri Lanka nach Kanada.August 2010: A ship carrying refugees from Sri Lanka en route to a port in British Columbia, Canada. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

Prior to that, refugee policy functioned on an ad-hoc basis in direct response to particular events around the world. For example, special programs with relaxed immigrant selection criteria were set up to admit people from Hong Kong in 1962 (the first time that Canada opened its doors to non-European refugees), from Czechoslovakia in 1968 and from Uganda in 1972.

Refuge and asylum are now regulated under the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). Under the IRPA, there are two avenues for obtaining refugee status: the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program for people seeking refugee status from outside Canada, and the In-Canada Asylum Program for people launching protection claims from within the country. Under the resettlement program, refugees abroad (e.g. in a refugee camp) are sponsored to come and settle in Canada, either by the government or privately, by groups, organizations or individuals. The Canadian government relies on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), referral organizations and private sponsoring groups to identify refugees to be sponsored. Persons thus identified are then evaluated by a Canadian visa office [1] to determine whether they are eligible for refugee status and whether they pass certain medical, security and criminal checks.

In addition to the resettlement program, it is possible to apply for asylum, as a Convention refugee or other person in need of protection, from within Canada. In this case, asylum can be claimed at a port of entry or at a CIC office in Canada. If a CIC officer decides that a claimant is eligible, the case is sent to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) for a decision. For the past 20 years, acceptance rates have remained at approximately 40-45 percent. In 2010 and 2011, that rate declined to 38 percent, the lowest in the history of the IRB. [2]

Changes in Canada’s refugee program

Two pieces of legislation – the 2010 Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the 2012 Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act (also known as Bill C-31) – have changed Canada’s refugee program substantially in the past couple of years. First, there is a new administrative category – Designated Countries of Origin or DCOs – which denotes countries that are not considered to be sources of refugee movements, that respect human rights, and that have an independent judicial system and civil society organizations. [3] Refugee applicants from any country designated as a DCO by the Minster of Citizenship and Immigration are subject to an expedited review process (approximately 30 days, compared to nine months for non-DCO applicants and about three years for all applicants previously) and have no right to appeal the decision. Second, the Minister now has the discretion to classify refugee claimants arriving in groups of two or more as "irregular arrivals". Irregular arrivals are subject to immediate detention and may not appeal decisions pertaining to their cases. A third major change is in the ability of refugee claimants to apply for permanent residence under the Humanitarian and Compassionate (H&C) stream during or after a (failed) refugee claim. Applicants are now barred from launching an H&C application while a refugee claim is ongoing, and in the 12 months following the final decision of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB).

Permanent and Temporary Refugee AdmissionsPermanent and Temporary Refugee Admissions (© bpb)
A number of NGOs, like the Canadian Council of Refugees (CCR), have expressed concern about these changes. One concern is that the short timeframes for launching a claim will make it difficult to prepare cases properly and/or obtain appropriate documentation from some origin countries. Another is that placing the authority for designating a country as a DCO in the hands of the Minister rather than independent experts may lead to false designations in the interest of expediency. Third, the CCR questions the constitutional legality of detention and review procedures for people designated – at the discretion of the government – as irregular arrivals. Plans to detain children under 16 years of age or offer families the option of releasing them into the care of the state are seen as particularly worrisome. Finally, alongside the high degree of Ministerial discretion in the new laws, the CCR has heavily criticized the numerous restrictions placed on appeals.

Fußnoten

1.
Under the Canada-Québec Accord, Québec is responsible for selecting refugees abroad for resettlement; the federal government is responsible for ensuring that people selected by Québec are eligible for refugee status
2.
See refugee statistics compiled by the Refugee Forum at the University of Ottawa’s Human Rights and Eduction Centre: www.cdp-hrc.uottawa.ca/projects/refugee-forum/projects/Statistics.php (accessed: 7-16-2013)
3.
In addition to these qualitative criteria, the Minister may designate any country as a DOC if a high volume of applications from its nationals has been rejected. For details, see the CIC website: www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/backgrounders/2012/2012-02-16i.asp (accessed: 7-16-2013)
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