Team ded­i­cated to pro­cess­ing bar­rage of asy­lum claims

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - STEPHANIE LEVITZ

OT­TAWA — The prospect of grow­ing camps of mi­grants on the Que­bec-New York bor­der prompted Canada’s Im­mi­gra­tion and Refugee Board to ex­clu­sively ded­i­cate 20 of its mem­bers Fri­day to the han­dling of their sud­den bar­rage of asy­lum claims.

The agency had been watch­ing care­fully the flow of would-be refugees into the prov­ince, but it was a sud­den re­cent spike in ar­rivals that prompted more ag­gres­sive ac­tion, said Shereen Ben­zvy Miller, the head of the refugee pro­tec­tion di­vi­sion.

“We want to an­tic­i­pate and make sure if win­ter is com­ing, that there isn’t a tent city of peo­ple await­ing de­ter­mi­na­tion in Fe­bru­ary,” Ben­zvy Miller said Fri­day.

“That was re­ally the thing that made us re­al­ize this needed spe­cial at­ten­tion.”

Be­tween Aug. 1 and 7 alone, 1,798 peo­ple showed up at an un­of­fi­cial cross­ing from the U.S. into Que­bec. By com­par­i­son, only 2,920 claims were filed in Que­bec in all of 2015.

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

The IRB has no con­trol over how long peo­ple will be in tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion on the bor­der. The Canada Bor­der Ser­vices Agency has said the pace of ar­rivals means that ini­tial screen­ing process is tak­ing far longer than normal and no one should be there for more than a few days.

From that point, it will take weeks or months be­fore a claim is be­fore the board, and Ben­zvy Miller said they wanted to be ready.

The IRB’s move is the lat­est in a se­ries of ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sures taken to deal with the surge. Twenty-five tents have been set up along the bor­der, while beds have been ar­ranged in­side Montreal’s Olympic Sta­dium, a for­mer con­vent and the old Royal Victoria hospi­tal.

The asy­lum cases are be­ing triaged in those lo­ca­tions, with of­fi­cials only com­plet­ing part of the ini­tial screen and al­low­ing peo­ple to move on to their fi­nal des­ti­na­tion be­fore fur­ther pro­cess­ing.

Nei­ther the CBSA nor Im­mi­gra­tion, Refugees and Cit­i­zen­ship Canada have re­sponded to re­quests for clar­i­fi­ca­tion on which parts of the screen­ing are be­ing de­layed or di­vided.

The IRB is al­ready fac­ing down a back­log of 1,000 cur­rent cases a month on top of the thou­sands of legacy cases they’ve al­ready re­as­signed to mem­bers.

Ben­zvy Miller in­sisted fur­ther redi­rect­ing mem­bers would have no im­pact on other ap­pli­ca­tions com­ing in, though she noted that it’s only a pi­lot project that can be can­celled if it does.

The point of ded­i­cat­ing mem­bers to the bor­der crossers is in part be­cause many 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 form the bulk of re­cent ar­rivals.

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