US-Canada asylum pact challenged
Refugee advocates are taking legal action in the hope of striking down a pact between Canada and the US that has prompted thousands of asylum seekers to brave freezing temperatures, waist-deep snow and icy rivers to enter Canada by foot.
Since the start of the year, more than 3,000 people in the US – many fleeing Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigrants – have entered Canada at remote, unguarded locations along the border. By doing so they aim to skirt a 2004 agreement between Canada and the US that forces most migrants to apply for asylum in the first country in which they arrive.
Lawyers have long warned that the pact, known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, encourages migrants to take long, riskier routes to enter Canada and file claims inland, where the agreement does not apply. Last Wednesday, after months of unsuccessfully pressing the Canadian government to consider suspending or rescinding the agreement, three advocacy groups went to court.
“The US was never safe for all refugees, and is now even less safe,” said Loly Rico, of the Canadian Council for Refugees, one of the groups backing the legal challenge. Along with Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches, Rico’s group has joined a court challenge filed by a woman who fled to the US from El Salvador in November. The woman – whose name is withheld to protect her identity – and her two daughters attempted last Wednesday to seek asylum in Canada at a border crossing. She feared that filing a refugee claim in the US would come with a risk of being deported to her home country, where a gang raped her and threatened to kill her family. The Safe Third Country Agreement meant her application was rejected. She filed a federal court challenge to the agreement and lawyers are pushing to allow her and her daughters to stay in Canada in the meantime.
Last Thursday, Canada’s ministry of immigration, refugees and citizenship said it continues to stand by the agreement, describing it as an “important tool” to manage refugee claims made in Canada and the US.
According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 3,461 asylum seekers were intercepted in the first six months of the year.