Friday, December 4, 2009

Refugees triple under "Steve"

On this Friday night, here's some rather comforting news: The Conservatives, which promised to eliminate the huge backlog of those claiming refugee status, even won votes saying there would be no tolerance for "bogus" claims, now faces a situation where the number of filers has increased in the nearly four years since they took power. In fact, it has more than tripled.

One of the reasons is that as board members have had their terms expire, the posts haven't been filled. There are now so few panelists that the average wait time to hear a claim has increased -- by 44%. Moreover, the government's response to alleged threats has been iffy to say the least, for instance earlier this demanding visas for tourists from Mexico and the Czech Republic -- neither group which has ever posed a serious security threat to our national interests and which leaves Canadians vulnerable to possible retaliatory measures. Imagine if the EU decides to require us Canadians to have a visa to travel to Europe, even for short stay vacations. Imagine what that will do to trade.
Meanwhile, the provinces are left holding the bill for social services while the applications are processed, almost never with compensation. Immigration is supposed to be a shared responsibility between Ottawa and the provinces -- has been since our federation was formed 142 years ago -- but even Québec which has the richest deal of all in this department of immigrant transition funding (for those who come in through the regular process) are saying their costs have doubled with nothing to show for it on the refugee side.
Also, by using the old canard "bogus refugee," those in power open up the door to having tolerance for racial and ethnic profiling which should have no play at all in determining the legitimacy of a "well founded fear of persection." Some other countries had a "whites first" policy for years, including Canada -- and look where that got us before we finally understood the doors should be open to all.
As the son and nephew of refugees, I say again I have no tolerance for those who would appeal to the better side of our virtues under false pretenses. But if we are to truly be a home for those who seek refuge for true reasons, then we should not be impeding the process. Competent people -- not party hacks -- should be named to the Refugee Board to eliminate the backlog, and the provinces and territories should get transition funding for refugees on the same basis as those under the regular class.

Another good step would be to eliminate visa restrictions on those remaining countries which pose no real problem in terms of trade or immigration but insisting those who want to file a refugee claim from those countries need to do so at our embassies in a safe third country, not at our borders. For those countries for which visas are necessary, a case should be made why restrictions are necessary and what steps need to be achieved to upgrade to visa-free status.

Finally, for regular immigrants, there shouldn't have to be an indeterminate waiting period; and those who have job qualifications for any position, not a pre-determined list, should not only get passage to Canada but also the ability to get their license in a reasonable period. Every country needs to update their migration policies, but all I have seen as of late is regression to the dark ages.

Even Mulroney wouldn't have let the refugee backlog get this big.

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