Ottawa’s plan to fast-track the refugee system could be a “gift” for bogus asylum seekers in the backlog because they will be on the backburner — and not fall under new regulations — when new refugee reform takes effect in December.
The federal government is expected to roll out the new refugee regulations December 1, which aim to assess asylum claims, hear appeals and boot out failed claimants within a year.
However, claims filed under the new law are the priorities and must be processed within legislated time frames; the 41,500 backlogged cases are not.
“The Immigration and Refugee Board will have a significant number of ‘legacy’ cases in the inventory when the Balanced Refugee Reform Act comes into force,” said the board’s recently published 2011/12 planning report. “The IRB will not have the resources to resolve these cases.”
Critics said it is irresponsible for the government to implement a new system without a transition plan such as the “semi-amnesty” program implemented to remove a backlog before the launch of the refugee board in 1989.
“When you start a new ferry, you are not going to put 40,000 people on it. It would sink the boat,” warned Peter Showler, former chair of the refugee board, now director of the University of Ottawa’s Refugee Forum.
Not only do genuine claimants suffer, the long wait time can benefit bogus refugees, said Toronto refugee lawyer Max Berger.
“It will be a gift for claimants with fabricated stories because now they can wait to stay in Canada for as long as possible,” Berger said.
Currently, asylum seekers arriving at the border wait 22 months for an initial decision by the refugee board. If rejected, they can appeal to the federal court and apply for pre-removal risk assessments, processes that take months, if not years.
As of April, there are 47,300 claims in backlog, down from 62,000 in 2009, when the Conservative government delayed appointing new asylum adjudicators.
Ottawa has since filled the refugee board and hired 12 additional adjudicators to deal with the backlog. It is not known when the backlog will be cleared.
“We want to see what’d actually happen under the new system rather than making assumptions and projections, which are a guessing game,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told the Star Monday.
“We are focused on the new system that would hopefully deter bogus claimants from clogging up the system and provide protection to bona fide refugees. It’s our hope that by deterring false claimants in the future that we will be able to continue reducing the backlog.”
In 1988, just before the refugee board was launched, the then Conservative government implemented a special one-hearing process to fast track a refugee backlog of 95,000 by lowering the bar of the examination. The backlog took four years to clear despite a $179 million price tag.
Kenney has already ruled out a similar humanitarian program.
“A complete amnesty is inappropriate, but it is reasonable to do some form of humanitarian program for those who are well established and have been here for a long time because of the failure and inefficiency of the current system,” said University of Ottawa’s Showler.
Under the reform, claims will be heard initially by civil servants, who must render decisions within 60 days for claimants from so-called “safe” countries and 90 days for others.