FROM A TRICKLE TO A TOR­RENT

Refugee claims from In­dia up 246%

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - John ivi­son Com­ment from Ot­tawa

Justin Trudeau’s visit to the sub-con­ti­nent ear­lier this year has be­come a po­lit­i­cal punch­line, even among Lib­er­als.

“In­dia? We didn’t go to In­dia,” is the re­sponse when the sub­ject is raised in­ter­nally.

But Trudeau did — and there were sub­stan­tive rea­sons why the visit went so badly.

Trudeau was snubbed by Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, be­cause it was felt he was soft on the Khal­is­tan move­ment that wants to es­tab­lish an in­de­pen­dent Sikh home­land in the Pun­jab re­gion.

What is more likely is that Trudeau is soft on what­ever pol­icy might ap­peal to a key vot­ing block — Canada’s po­lit­i­cally-ac­tive Sikh com­mu­nity. Pun­jab, where Sikhs make up a ma­jor­ity, is the largest source of In­dian mi­grants to Canada and Trudeau has boasted about hav­ing more Sikhs in his cab­i­net than Modi.

A refugee claims anal­y­sis re­port for the first six months of this year compiled by the In­tel­li­gence and Anal­y­sis Sec­tion of the Canada Bor­der Ser­vices Agency, and ob­tained by the Na­tional Post, of­fers some clues as to why Modi’s govern­ment is at odds with Trudeau.

The re­port showed that there was a 39 per cent in­crease in refugee claims by mid-2018, com­pared to the same pe­riod a year ear­lier. Much of the in­crease is the re­sult of the well-doc­u­mented claims by Nige­rian na­tion­als cross­ing from the U.S. at Rox­ham Road in Que­bec — a rise of 300 per cent year over year.

But there has also been a 246 per cent in­crease in claims by In­dian na­tion­als — a surge pro­jected to con­tinue in the sec­ond half of the year.

By mid-2018, 1,805 claims had been made, 60 per cent at in­land im­mi­gra­tion of­fices, rather than at air­ports or land bor­der cross­ings. The vast ma­jor­ity of claimants gained ac­cess to Canada us­ing tem­po­rary res­i­dent visas is­sued by the Cana­dian govern­ment. Most were born in Pun­jab and neigh­bour­ing Haryana.

“A fre­quent ba­sis of claim cited by In­dian na­tion­als is the fear of ar­bi­trary ar­rest or abuse by the po­lice based on ac­cu­sa­tions of sup­port­ing mil­i­tant or­ga­ni­za­tions. It should be noted the vast ma­jor­ity of th­ese claims are filed by In­dian Sikhs,” it said.

The re­port cited ris­ing ten­sions be­tween the In­dian govern­ment and the coun­try’s Sikh pop­u­la­tion over re­newed sup­port for sep­a­ratism in Pun­jab for the in­crease in claims.

“Con­tem­po­rary sup­port has re-emerged around pro­pos­als for an un­of­fi­cial ref­er­en­dum of the global Sikh di­as­pora in 2020 on the ques­tion of in­de­pen­dence.… As govern­ment push­back against the Sikh com­mu­nity con­tin­ues, fear of ar­bi­trary ar­rest and abuse by au­thor­i­ties will likely prompt more In­dian Sikhs to leave the coun­try,” it con­cluded, es­ti­mat­ing claims in 2018 will reach 4,200.

There is, of course, noth­ing un­to­ward about those be­ing gen­uinely per­se­cuted seek­ing refuge in Canada. That is what the pro­gram is for. But there are sug­ges­tions the Lib­er­als are ma­nip­u­lat­ing the process for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses.

Sources sug­gest that in 2016, Cana­dian visa of­fi­cers in In­dia were told to fa­cil­i­tate peo­ple seek­ing tem­po­rary res­i­dent visas, at the same time as se­nior of­fi­cials sym­pa­thetic to in­creased Sikh im­mi­gra­tion were brought in to over­see the pro­gram.

This fall, visa of­fi­cers in In­dia were re­port­edly given ver­bal in­struc­tions to is­sue multi-en­try visas valid for 10 years to all par­ents with chil­dren in Canada and to oth­ers with rel­a­tives in Canada.

The Con­ser­va­tives tried to play a sim­i­lar game when they were in power, in­tro­duc­ing “su­per-visas” to al­low par­ents to se­cure a 10-year visa. But it re­quired the chil­dren in Canada to meet a low-in­come cut-off stip­u­la­tion and ar­range med­i­cal in­sur­ance. Those re­quire­ments now ap­pear to have been waived.

The num­ber of visa ap­pli­ca­tions from In­dian cit­i­zens soared 70 per cent to 490,552 in the first half of the year, com­pared to the same pe­riod in 2017, and the num­ber of visas ap­proved in­creased 61 per cent to 295,867 year on year, ac­cord­ing to Im­mi­gra­tion depart­ment sta­tis­tics.

Mathieu Gen­est, a spokesman for Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Ahmed Hussen, said the in­de­pen­dence of visa of­fi­cers is en­shrined in law and no po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tion was given.

“Canada is a pre­ferred des­ti­na­tion for In­dian vis­i­tors, busi­ness trav­ellers and stu­dents and we value their con­tri­bu­tions to Cana­dian so­ci­ety,” he said. “While the over­all num­ber of In­dian TRV (tem­po­rary res­i­dent visa) hold­ers claim­ing asy­lum has risen, th­ese claims rep­re­sent less than one per cent of all In­dian trav­ellers to Canada. The vast ma­jor­ity of In­dian na­tion­als vis­it­ing or mi­grat­ing to Canada do so through reg­u­lar means.”

Gen­est said visa ap­pli­ca­tions are con­sid­ered caseby-case based on in­for­ma­tion pre­sented by the ap­pli­cant. “The onus is on the ap­pli­cant to show that they meet the re­quire­ments for a tem­po­rary res­i­dent visa. All ap­pli­ca­tions from around the world are as­sessed equally against the same cri­te­ria. Canada does not limit the num­ber of tem­po­rary res­i­dent visa ap­pli­ca­tions that are ac­cepted from any coun­try.”

But An­drew Grif­fith, a for­mer di­rec­tor gen­eral of cit­i­zen­ship with the fed­eral govern­ment, said that im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy has often been the sub­ject of po­lit­i­cal whims.

The in­crease in visas is­sued should be viewed against a back­ground of changes be­ing made to im­mi­gra­tion and refugee pol­icy by the Lib­er­als.

In 2015, the Harper govern­ment’s last year in power, 63 per cent of 272,000 new per­ma­nent res­i­dents were eco­nomic class mi­grants; 24 per cent ar­rived un­der the fam­ily re­uni­fi­ca­tion pro­gram and 13 per cent were refugees.

By 2021, the high end of the govern­ment’s pro­jec­tions sug­gest only 56 per cent of the 350,000 new ar­rivals will be eco­nomic mi­grants; 27 per cent will land un­der fam­ily re­uni­fi­ca­tion and 17 per cent un­der refugee and hu­man­i­tar­ian pro­grams.

“There is a le­git­i­mate pol­icy de­bate to be had,” said Grif­fith. “That shift from low 60s from the eco­nomic class to high 50s is not a ma­jor change but it is a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber over time.”

He pointed out that over a 20-year pe­riod, the mix hardly mat­ters, in terms of im­mi­grants’ in­come lev­els. “But the Con­ser­va­tives were right to bump up the eco­nomic class be­cause that’s where pub­lic sup­port is great­est,” he said.

Ex­cept, it should be noted, in im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, where, as the 2015 elec­tion proved, Lib­eral plans to “re­unite fam­i­lies” are ex­tremely pop­u­lar and grat­i­tude is re­paid in votes.

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