The Hamilton Spectator - - FINDING HOME - STEVE BUIST sbuist@thes­ 905-526-3226

SINCE 2005, Canada and the U.S. have man­aged the flow of refugees at their shared land bor­der cross­ings through the Safe Third Coun­try Agree­ment.

Un­der the agree­ment, refugee claimants are re­quired to seek pro­tec­tion of the first coun­try they ar­rived in.

But there are some ex­cep­tions to the agree­ment that al­low refugee claimants who ar­rived in the U.S. first to cross the bor­der to Canada and make their claim here.

The ex­cep­tions in­clude:

A fam­ily mem­ber liv­ing in Canada who is a Cana­dian cit­i­zen, per­ma­nent res­i­dent, pro­tected per­son or suc­cess­ful refugee claimant. A qual­i­fy­ing fam­ily mem­ber in­cludes: spouse or com­mon-law part­ner, le­gal guardian, child, fa­ther or mother, brother or sis­ter, grand­fa­ther or grand­mother, un­cle or aunt, nephew or niece, grand­child;

Un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors un­der age 18 who are un­mar­ried with no par­ent or le­gal guardian in Canada or the U.S.;

Hold­ers of cer­tain doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing a valid Cana­dian visa, valid work per­mit, valid study per­mit, a travel doc­u­ment for per­ma­nent res­i­dents or refugees;

A na­tional of a coun­try, such as Mex­ico, where visas are not re­quired to en­ter Canada but are re­quired to en­ter the U.S.;

A pub­lic in­ter­est ex­cep­tion for those who have been charged with or con­victed of an of­fence that could sub­ject them to the death penalty in the U.S. or in a third coun­try. A refugee claimant is in­el­i­gi­ble, how­ever if he or she has been found in­ad­mis­si­ble in Canada on the grounds of se­cu­rity, for vi­o­lat­ing hu­man or in­ter­na­tional rights, or for se­ri­ous crimes, or if the gov­ern­ment de­ter­mines the per­son is a dan­ger to the pub­lic.

A LARGE PRO­POR­TION of refugee claimants en­ter­ing Canada from the U.S. are at­tempt­ing to use the fam­ily mem­ber ex­cep­tion to the Safe Third Coun­try Agree­ment.

Mak­ing a suc­cess­ful refugee claim is a two-step process in Canada.

The first step, which oc­curs at a bor­der en­try point such as the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, sim­ply al­lows the asy­lum seeker into Canada to then make the ac­tual refugee claim, which must be sub­mit­ted within 15 days.

A refugee claimant ar­riv­ing at the Peace Bridge will be in­ter­viewed and screened by agents from the Canada Bor­der Ser­vices Agency (CBSA) to de­ter­mine if the asy­lum seek­ers meet one of the ex­cep­tions to the agree­ment. If so, they are al­lowed en­try. No de­ter­mi­na­tion is made at that time, how­ever, about the va­lid­ity of the claim.

It’s the sec­ond step that de­ter­mines the ul­ti­mate fate of the asy­lum seeker. Usu­ally within 60 days — al­though the surge in cases re­cently is caus­ing a num­ber of post­pone­ments — the Im­mi­gra­tion and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) will hear the mer­its of the claim and make a de­ci­sion.

A refugee is some­one who is out­side their home coun­try or the coun­try they nor­mally live in and is un­able to re­turn be­cause of a well-founded fear of per­se­cu­tion based on race, re­li­gion, po­lit­i­cal opin­ion, na­tion­al­ity, or mem­ber­ship in a so­cial group, such as women or peo­ple of a par­tic­u­lar sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

If re­turned to that coun­try, th­ese peo­ple risk the dan­ger of tor­ture, risk to their life, or risk cruel and un­usual treatment or pun­ish­ment.

A res­i­dent at the Vive cen­tre wears a GPS-track­ing an­kle mon­i­tor. Women and chil­dren are dropped off there by U.S. bor­der of­fi­cials, men are gen­er­ally de­tained.

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