In On­tario, more than 15,000 claimants were pro­cessed last year com­pared to 6,800 in 2013. Another 4,800 were pro­cessed in On­tario in the first three months of this year.

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claimants were pro­cessed in just the first three months of 2017.

In On­tario, more than 15,000 claimants were pro­cessed last year com­pared to 6,800 in 2013. Another 4,800 were pro­cessed in On­tario in the first three months of this year.

Que­bec is par­tic­u­larly over­whelmed. There were more refugee claimants pro­cessed in the first three months of this year — 3,080 — than the 2,900 claimants pro­cessed in all of 2015.

“It’s a chal­lenge,” said Anna Pape, IRB spokesper­son for the On­tario re­gion.

“When you’re out­num­bered by re­fer­rals in terms of de­ci­sion mak­ers avail­able to hear claims, it be­comes a prob­lem.”

Pape said there are also other rea­sons for the in­def­i­nite post­pone­ment of cases, in­clud­ing a lack of in­ter­preters, claimants wait­ing for more doc­u­men­ta­tion or in­com­plete se­cu­rity check clear­ances from ei­ther CBSA or CSIS at the time of the hear­ing.

In the fall, she noted, more than half of the post­pone­ments were due to an in­com­plete se­cu­rity clear­ance.

“If the se­cu­rity re­sults aren’t in, that ba­si­cally re­sults in an au­to­matic post­pone­ment of the hear­ing,” Pape said.

In late 2012, the Harper gov­ern­ment re­formed refugee leg­is­la­tion, mak­ing it manda­tory for a refugee claimant’s hear­ing to be sched­uled within 30, 45 or 60 days, de­pend­ing on cer­tain cri­te­ria.

“When the num­ber of re­fer­rals were down, that sys­tem worked,” said Pape. “But at this point, we have more re­fer­rals than we have re­sources.”

IN DE­CEM­BER,

just over 30 per cent of hear­ings were held within the sched­ul­ing time­lines. Dur­ing the sum­mer of 2015, by com­par­i­son, about three-quar­ters of all hear­ings were held within the sched­ul­ing time­lines.

On top of that, there are still 5,600 so-called “legacy claims” filed be­fore the new 2012 leg­is­la­tion that haven’t been heard yet in ad­di­tion to the new post­pone­ments that are pil­ing up.

Pape said the IRB has re­ceived some ad­di­tional fund­ing to add ex­tra de­ci­sion mak­ers.

About 30 new de­ci­sion mak­ers were added last year, bring­ing the num­ber in Canada to al­most 120.

The IRB is also try­ing to shorten the hear­ing process for claimants who ar­rive from coun­tries with very high ac­cep­tance rates.

There’s also an ex­pe­dited process where claimants with­out se­cu­rity con­cerns or cred­i­bil­ity doubts can get a de­ci­sion with­out a hear­ing if they are from Syria, Eritrea or Iraq.

“We’re try­ing to ob­tain a bal­ance and get some of th­ese post­poned cases back on track,” said Pape. THE

IN­FLUX OF CLAIMANTS is also clog­ging the pro­cess­ing of refugee claimants at bor­der cross­ings such as the Peace Bridge be­tween Fort Erie and Buf­falo.

Of­fi­cials at the Vive cen­tre in Buf­falo, which pro­vides shel­ter to refugee claimants at­tempt­ing to reach Canada, said prior to the elec­tion of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, ap­point­ments could be sched­uled for claimants with CBSA at the Peace Bridge in two or three days.

Now, it can take four weeks for an ap­point­ment date to be sched­uled.

Eisen­berg said he doesn’t ex­pect the pro­cess­ing sit­u­a­tion to im­prove much in the com­ing months. It may even worsen, he said.

“Canada’s re­ally be­com­ing the only coun­try that’s re­ceiv­ing im­mi­grants th­ese days,” he said. “The United States has pretty much shut off its im­mi­gra­tion pro­gram and a lot of the coun­tries in Europe are dry­ing up, same for Australia.”

Eisen­berg said his caseload has in­creased about 25 per cent from the same time last year, yet he’s con­fi­dent Canada can eas­ily ab­sorb the in­creased num­bers of refugees.

“I’ve been do­ing this now for 30 years and we al­ways find a way,” said Eisen­berg. “Maybe I’m bi­ased but I think im­mi­grants have a tremen­dous pos­i­tive ef­fect on the com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to cre­at­ing busi­nesses, cre­at­ing jobs.”

Eisen­berg said he hears many heart­break­ing and tragic sto­ries from his refugee clients. He be­lieves Cana­di­ans would ben­e­fit from hear­ing some of th­ese sto­ries for them­selves.

“We de­mo­nize them and politi­cians for their self in­ter­est de­mo­nize th­ese peo­ple,” said Eisen­berg. “There’s re­ally noth­ing to be afraid of.

“Typ­i­cally, most of th­ese peo­ple just end up work­ing, liv­ing their lives, do­ing what peo­ple do.”

Al­varo Be­tran with his aunt, Mar­garet Ri­vas.

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