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Refugees languishing in years-long backlog

July 11, 2016

Toronto Star | More than four years after Hanifi Ozdemir arrived seeking asylum in Canada, the Kurdish political activist from Turkey is still waiting for a hearing date.

The father of two is among 6,300 so-called legacy claimants languishing in the asylum system for as many as six years as officials direct resources to cases filed after December 2012 when the former Conservative government imposed statutory time limits on the processing of new claims.

The wait time for Ozdemir, who is already suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the strain of being separated from his family, is expected to grow even longer as Canadian officials are seeing a 22-per-cent spike in new claims, pushing the legacy cases further back in the queue.

According to the Immigration and Refugee Board, the number of new asylum claims has skyrocketed from 10,356 in 2013 to 16,521 last year. In the first three months of 2016 alone, the board logged 5,327 claims and the annual number is expected to exceed 20,000.

“Friends of mine who arrived in Canada and made their refugee claims years after I did have already been determined to be refugees and many have gone on to become permanent residents. The uncertainty that I have faced has been really awful,” Ozdemir, 34, said through an interpreter.

“I was already suffering psychologically at the time I arrived, but during the long years I have waited, my anxiety and depression have become more severe. My wife and kids cannot reunite with me here unless I’m found to be a refugee, but my claim seems to be held up indefinitely,” the Toronto resident said.

His lawyer, Catherine Bruce, director of the Refugee Law Office, has requested numerous times to have her client declared a “vulnerable person” and have the case prioritized on the grounds of his deteriorating mental health.

The refugee board’s reply: “Unfortunately at this time, due to operational limitations, the board is unable to schedule this case as a priority; there are many, many cases of claimants claiming PTSD.”

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