US-Canada asy­lum pact chal­lenged

The Guardian Weekly - - International news - Ashifa Kas­sam

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.

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