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Caught at Canada’s border: What happens once asylum-seekers cross irregularly

March 13, 2017

By National Post | In recent weeks, the sight of asylum-seekers irregularly crossing the border from the U.S. into Canada — some of them young children — has left an indelible impression. There are worries about a spring surge, but so far officials in Ottawa say it’s too early to know. The release of official numbers has been haphazard and incomplete, but one thing is clear: irregular border crossers represent just a fraction of the people seeking asylum in Canada every year.

How does one claim asylum?

Someone who fears persecution, torture or risk to their life may seek protection as a refugee by claiming asylum at a port of entry (airport, border crossing or seaport) or at an inland office of the Canada Border Services Agency or Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Asylum claimants are different from those refugees who are resettled from abroad and who are sponsored by the government or a private group.

What happens next?

All asylum claimants undergo health and security screenings. That helps a border services officer or immigration officer determine if a person is eligible to make a claim. Someone can be deemed ineligible for a number of reasons, including if they’ve been recognized as a refugee by another country, are inadmissible to Canada on security grounds, or if they previously made a refugee claim that was rejected.

Those deemed eligible — most of them are — will have their cases referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board and given a date for a hearing. While waiting for their hearing, they are entitled to temporary health coverage.

What happens at the Immigration and Refugee Board hearing?

An adjudicator reviews the claimant’s paperwork, as well as documents produced within the IRB outlining the political, social, economic and human rights conditions of the country the claimant is fleeing. A claimant will be asked to provide testimony in support of their claim. Hearings usually last half a day. If a claim is rejected, an appeal can be filed with the Appeal Division or an application can be made to Federal Court for judicial review.

How many asylum claims have been made over the years? Is it on the rise?

After a period of decline, there has been an upward trend in recent years.

Claims at IRCC inland offices nationwide:

2012: 11,711
2013: 5,746
2014: 7,333
2015: 8,946
2016 (Jan-Oct): 10,260

Claims processed at CBSA ports of entry or inland CBSA offices nationwide:

2011: 11,512
2012: 8,799
2013: 4,680
2014: 6,158
2015: 7,167
2016: 11,366

What about so far this year?

The public safety minister’s office says that from January through February, more than 5,200 asylum claims were made across the country. Of those, 2,941 were processed at CBSA ports of entry and inland CBSA offices, according to the border agency. That means the remainder were made at IRCC offices.

Based on these numbers, it would appear that we’re on track to surpass last year’s totals.

Why are some asylum-seekers crossing the border irregularly? Are they queue jumpers? What happens to them when they are caught? How many of them are there?

Some asylum-seekers have been crossing the border irregularly and bypassing official ports of entry because of the fear they will be turned away. Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, the U.S. is considered a “safe” country to be a refugee, meaning Canadian border officers can turn away asylum-seekers who come via the U.S. However, the Canadian government does not consider them “queue jumpers” as they are processed in a different stream from refugees who are resettled from abroad.

When intercepted by the RCMP, irregular border crossers are taken to the nearest CBSA or IRCC office where they are screened and assessed for their eligibility to make a refugee claim. If their identity cannot be verified or they pose a danger, they can be detained. If found inadmissible, they can be deported.

Obtaining figures has been difficult. Numbers released by CBSA and IRCC do not parse out those asylum claimants who entered the country irregularly.

The RCMP does keep track of the people intercepted crossing the border irregularly, but not all of them necessarily are asylum-seekers. With that caveat, here are the number of irregular border crossers caught by the RCMP this year:

290 in Quebec (Feb 1 – Feb. 21)
202 in Manitoba (Jan. 1 – March 8)
51 in B.C. (Feb. 1 – Feb. 21)

In all of 2016, there were 2,464 irregular border crossings in B.C., Manitoba and Quebec.

How many asylum claimants are ultimately accepted by the IRB as refugees and where are they from?

The IRB’s acceptance rate of refugee claims has been steadily increasing, from 35 per cent in 2012 to 58 per cent in 2015. From January through September 2016, the IRB accepted 7,579 refugee claims, an acceptance rate of 62 per cent. Of those whose claims were accepted last year, the top countries of alleged persecution were Syria, Pakistan and Iraq.

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