Spe­cial team to hear Que­bec bor­der asy­lum seek­ers

North Bay Nugget - - NATIONAL NEWS - STEPHANIE LE­VITZ

OT­TAWA — twenty of­fi­cials from the Im­mi­gra­tion and refugee Board have been as­signed to fo­cus ex­clu­sively on de­cid­ing asy­lum claims lodged by peo­ple cross­ing il­le­gally into Que­bec.

the ded­i­cated team will start hear­ing ap­pli­ca­tions from those who ar­rived ear­lier this sum­mer, but the de­ci­sion is be­ing driven by the ex­cep­tion­ally high vol­ume of peo­ple ar­riv­ing in re­cent days.

“the rea­son this is im­por­tant to do now is that this trend seems to be grow­ing not de­creas­ing,” Shereen Ben­zvy Miller, the head of the refugee pro­tec­tion di­vi­sion at the IRB told the Cana­dian Press on Fri­day.

“and pro­jec­tions that we’re given don’t look like it is go­ing to slow down any time soon.”

Be­tween aug. 1 and aug. 7 alone, 1,798 peo­ple showed up at an un­of­fi­cial cross­ing from the u.S. into Que­bec, the IRB said.

By com­par­i­son — in all of 2015, only 2,920 claims were filed in Que­bec.

the surge in ar­rivals has prompted ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sures at the bor­der, in­clud­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of a de-facto refugee camp as se­cu­rity of­fi­cials must hold peo­ple un­til their ini­tial screens are com­pleted.

Based on that, peo­ple ar­riv­ing right now may not even be judged el­i­gi­ble to make a claim for months, Ben­zvy Miller said.

“We wanted to step up,” she said.

the IRB had al­ready been deal­ing with an in­creased num­ber of claims since be­fore the il­le­gal cross­ings started this year and the cur­rent rate of ar­rivals has cre­ated a back­log of 1,000 cases a month.

that was on top of cases that were al­ready lan­guish­ing in the sys­tem for years thanks to a change in the way claims were han­dled in 2012; the board had al­ready redi­rected some mem­bers to han­dling just those legacy cases.

the 20-mem­ber group now tasked with this is­sue is a pilot project and Ben­zvy Miller in­sisted Fri­day it will have no im­pact on asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions be­ing filed by oth­ers.

the point of as­sign­ing mem­bers solely to the bor­der crossers ap­pli­ca­tions is in part be­cause many of the claimants are be­lieved to come from the same place.

“that’s a fa­mil­iar­ity that helps in ad­ju­di­ca­tion to fig­ure out the risk and the need for pro­tec­tion for peo­ple com­ing in,” she said.

haitian na­tion­als make up the bulk of those who’ve crossed in re­cent days; statis­tics from the IRB show that in 2016, only 50 per cent of claims from haitian na­tion­als were ac­cepted.

GRA­HAM HUGHES/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

An asy­lum seeker rests his head at a makeshift pro­cess­ing cen­tre at the Canada-United States bor­der on Rox­ham Road in Hem­ming­ford, Que., on Wed­nes­day.

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