Thursday, January 12, 2006

Canadian bishops call for end of refugee agreement with U.S.

By Deborah Gyapong Catholic News Service

OTTAWA (CNS) -- Canadian Catholic bishops called for the repeal of the Safe
Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States and the end of
racial profiling of Arab and Muslim communities.

The recommendations were contained in a pastoral letter, "We Are Aliens and
Transients Before the Lord Our God," published by the bishops' social
affairs commission.

Refugees must not be scapegoats because of heightened security concerns
following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said Archbishop Roger
Ebacher of Gatineau, Quebec, at a Jan. 10 news conference on Parliament Hill
to release the letter. He said most terrorists would probably not go to the
trouble of trying to enter the country as refugees.

He urged Canadians not to become prejudiced toward refugees and migrants,
who face poverty, separation from families and persecution in their home

"It is a fundamental inversion of values when laws and politics place
national interests before human dignity," said Archbishop Ebacher, who
chairs the social affairs commission.

He said the letter was motivated by the gap between rich and poor nations of
the North and South, security concerns and urgent problems seen in the
social and economic integration of immigrants to Canada.

In addition to asking for the abrogation of the Safe Third Country
Agreement, the former bishops' conference president, Archbishop Brendan
O'Brien of St. John's, Newfoundland, urged Canada to introduce a promised
refugee appeal system, eliminate obstacles to speedy family reunification,
reduce the wait for collective sponsorships, and reinforce laws to protect
victims of human trafficking.

In the letter, the bishops said the church "must continue to raise its voice
to defend the human dignity of migrants wherever they may be and contribute
to changing current policies which threaten their rights."

"Arab and Muslim communities, in particular, seem to suffer from racial
profiling," the bishops said, referring to longer processing times from
areas such as North Africa, the indefinite detention of people issued
security certificates, and the "alarming practice of 'extraordinary
rendition' of Canadian nationals to countries where torture is practiced."

The Safe Third Country Agreement was meant to stop the practice of "asylum
shopping" -- when refugee claimants who failed to gain refugee status in the
United States could try again in Canada or vice versa.

In 2002, when the agreement was in its initial stages, John Manley, former
deputy prime minister, said the agreement was necessary to end the abuse of
Canada's broken refugee system by bogus refugee claimants.

In 2003, Auditor General Sheila Fraser reported that about 30,000
outstanding warrants for the removal of failed claimants and illegal
immigrants had never been enforced.

Archbishop O'Brien said many failed refugee claimants and economic migrants
have been allowed to live in Canada as long as their local communities
accept and support them. He said it would be inhumane to deport them.

The bishops' conference opposed the Safe Third Country Agreement, as did
many refugee advocacy groups, arguing that U.S. foreign policy makes the
United States more likely to refuse some refugee claimants that Canada would

Since the agreement came into effect, refugee claims to enter Canada have
dropped almost 40 percent, according to a July report by CBC News, Canada's
national public broadcaster.

The refugee appeal process that the bishops called for was promised in the
2001 Immigration Act, but late last year Joseph Volpe, immigration minister,
decided not to institute it. Volpe said he wanted to ensure the system got
refugee determination correct the first time.

Asked why the bishops published the pastoral letter in the middle of a
federal election campaign, Archbishop O'Brien said it had been in the works
a long time before the election.

The letter was dated Jan. 15, when the Catholic Church in Canada marks World
Day for Migrants and Refugees.

The pastoral letter defends the right of churches to offer sanctuary to
refugee claimants as a last resort, pointing out that in 2004 Judy Sgro,
then-immigration minister, asked churches to stop providing sanctuary.

The letter also called for better treatment of the 18,000 seasonal
agricultural workers from Mexico and the Caribbean who come to Canada each

An important P.S. from from M Muller at Harvard:

Just a quick follow-up to "Canadian bishops call for end of refugee agreement with U.S." that may or may not be blogworthy...The Canadian Council for Refugees , Amnesty, and the Canadian Council of Churches have actually filed an action attacking Canada's STCA. See . See also for information about a pending Inter-American Commission of Human Rights petition protesting Canada's "direct-back" policy (which I understand is still in place although the STCA went into effect). The theme of both cases is the same: the U.S. asylum system is not up to international standards, and returning a refugee claimant to the states can be tantamount to refoulement.


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