Monday, July 27, 2009

Refugees and Canada

This is a guest post from Lindsay.

The other day I went to a talk about refugees. I thought I would share what I learned. This is a topic I didn’t know much about until the other day and there’s still a lot I don’t know. It’s interesting that this talk came in the middle of two changes Canada made in order to discourage refugees from coming here.

Refugees are people who have had to move to another country because their country has war or they are being persecuted in some way. In Canada, many people from Mexico attempt to be refugees. Refugees who make their way here on their own and then hope they will be allowed to stay here are called claimant refugees. They arrive in a city with the right office and make a claim that they should be allowed to stay in Canada as a refugee. It can take a year or more to find out if they can stay in Canada. They cannot apply to be considered refugees at the border or they will be automatically turned away and sent back to Mexico. Recently, Canada has changed the laws so that visitors from Mexico and the Czech Republic require a visa. This is supposedly because a lot of claimant refugees from Mexico are not actually being persecuted but are coming for economic reasons. Also, they say there are too many cases and they cannot handle them all. Refugees who know they will be allowed to stay here are convention refugees.

The main myth about refugees is they come here to get things for free. The government of Canada actually gives refugees a loan. They are even expected to pay back their plane tickets that brought them here if they came by plane. They cannot work until they have a work permit which can take 5-8 months. However, I am not sure if we get money from claimant refugees who are denied and have to go home. According to one article, they cost us billions per year because of their living expenses and paying the people who decide whether they can stay.

It can take a year or more for claimant refugees to find out whether they can stay in the country. This decision is made by one person in a trial-like hearing. There is no appeal process. If you cannot stay in Canada, you are sent back home. Some refugees get a “friendlier” interview type hearing, particularly if their case is taking longer. Who stays in Canada is based in large part on politics. It is unlikely for Columbians to be denied and unlikely for Mexicans to be accepted.

We were told the story of a Mexican who looked out his window at the wrong time and saw two people dealing drugs. Because he saw them, he was a target. His brother was mistaken for him and murdered. I believe he is currently in Canada hoping to stay here but the odds are against him.

A couple days ago Canada changed the laws so that if a person from Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Zimbabwe landed in America first, they cannot apply to be a refugee in Canada. They cannot cross the land border from U.S to Canada and apply for refugee status.

I recently watched Lost Boys of Sudan. It is a documentary that follows young Sudanese men as they adjust to life in America as refugees. I recommend it. It shows life is not easy for them but it’s certainly not entirely terrible. It does touch on the issues of education for refugees that America needs to work on.

These are just some bare basics about refugees who come to Canada. I have found it is hard to get all the facts from newspaper articles. Some articles seem to assume people have background knowledge. Many articles on google news are opinions pieces but people might not realize this.

I still know so little. I advise everyone not to assume newspapers have all the information about refugees. Or that they offer a neutral view. Even if an article is supposed to be objective, the author can choose which facts to report. Refugees are a complicated issue. I’m sure not everyone who comes here hoping to be a refugee is about to be persecuted. That is what we must figure out as fairly as possible. How to be fair and not deport people who will be killed or tortured is not an easy question. I do wonder how much our government cares about being fair and how much we just want to discourage as many refugees as possible from coming here. There are many negative opinions about refugees, as shown by comments to online articles so I want to encourage people to get as many facts as possible about refugees and encourage others to do the same.