Canada need not emulate oppression

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No one knows if it was a coincidence or a pre-planned media onslaught. The fact, however, remains that CBC’s January 4-6 transmissions left most Canadians with the impression that there is little left in Canada to talk about other than the "problem" of refugees.  

Advertisements and introductory shows about CBC’s six-hour mini-series, "Human Cargo," were on airwaves for quite some time. After broadcasting the first two parts of the series on January 4, CBC came with news and interviews about Fraser Institute’s report on the refugee "problem" on January 5.  

Imagine those who were still lost in Fraser’s 40-page report when they were made to watch non-stop discussion, documentaries and then the last part of the series on the same refugee "problem" from 6:30 to 10 pm on January 6.  

Also imagine the impact of these powerful images and statements fed to the Canadian audience without any concrete recommendations. One wonders if it was an attempt to find the right solution or just a preparation of the public mind for any solution comprised of unprecedented actions in favor of or against the refugees in Canada.  

Besides spreading some misconceptions, most aspects of the refugee "problem" were grossly exaggerated in the CBC production.  

One of the major misconceptions spread by "Human Cargo" and "Life and Times" (January 6) is that refugees are supported by the best available lawyers in the country. It is absolutely not the case, however, with almost 90 percent of the refugees.  

Most of the system abusers get away with fake documents even if they have legal aid lawyers who hardly work for more than a few hours on each case. At the same time, even the most consummate of lawyers cannot help where Immigration Canada is determined to throw some well-deserving claimants out.  

Overall, CBC’s production did not come up with something that could help the government shape its future policies. At best it stirred up public sentiments both in favor and against asylum seekers, because it left much to individual perception and interpretation.  

The Fraser Institute’s report, on the other hand, is a potential bombshell which could potentially be made a cornerstone of an extremely irrational government approach to the refugee "problem" in the near future.  

Instead of giving practicable recommendations that could benefit Canada in the long run, the report looks forward to an impossible international standardization of immigration policy – a harmonization which has not been possible in any other policy issue, let alone the issue of "illegal immigration."  

The report complains that the "basic framework of policy and practice" in Canada makes "little or no effort to discourage the choice of Canada as a destination state for illegal arrivals."  

Contradicting itself later, the report highlights that unlike European countries, Canada is insulated from mass refugees influx because "it is not situated besides or close to countries of emigration."  

On top of this insulation, "in 2001 Canada’s immigration control officers at overseas airports helped intercept 7,879 ‘improperly documented’ individuals before they could embark."  

Furthermore, the report refers to an Oxford study which concludes that Canada "is not easy to reach." This fact, by itself is sufficient to "screen out those with limited resources," even if they are genuine victims of persecution. If all this is not working as a deterrence, one wonders what else do the authors of the report propose vis-à-vis discouraging asylum seekers.  

Although the report has suggested the idea of setting up refugee camps in Canada and not allowing refugees to integrate before a final decision in their cases, but I hope such suggestions do not lead to the situation as we witness in Germany. [1] After all Germany is part of the developed world and Fraser’s report suggests that Canada should emulate policies of other developed countries. This kind of report lead to policies and subsequent death of 40,000 refugees at the European Union borders in 10 years.[2]  

The report also suggests restricting "employment opportunities available to refugee claimants." It is simply asking for more social and financial troubles both for the government and the refugees. It calls the social assistance package as "generous benefits." The report suggests reducing incentives and restricting employment to bring Canada’s policy at par with the UK model.  

On the very next page the report gives average support cost to a refugee family in UK, which is $ 32,601 CDN. By contrast, the average social welfare assistance annual cost to a family with three dependent children is not more than $ 13,000 CDN in Canada.  

Furthermore, Canada ranks fifth in drawing flows of refugees and ranks seventh on a per capita basis. It shows the problem is neither huge numbers, nor a financial burden in relative terms. It is just the incompetence to deal with the system abusers who are manipulating the good intentions on the part of the Canadian people and government.  

In view of these realities suggestions to restrict "access to the regular or full refugee determination process of ‘unlawful’ arrivals" sounds irrational. There is too much stress on unlawful entrants. The question is, what percentage of asylum seekers enter with 100 per cent valid documents? If judged by this standard, more than 99 per cent of claimants would end up on deportation row immediately.  

Actually many aspects of the refugees complex phenomenon are interconnected. The more Canada tightens visa restrictions, the more the people in search of saving their own skin would turn to human smugglers and the more the entrants claiming for asylum would be illegal.  

This interconnectedness shows that the problem and its solution lies somewhere else. Referring to IRB, the report criticizes the "first-instance refugee determination process staff by ‘independent’ decision makers." It suggests this determination be made by "administrative officials." It also recommends limiting the role of the judiciary because it lacks "specialized expertise" required for this job.  

In this regard, at least one finds no difference in the competence of independent decision makers, civil servants or administrative officials. This competence alone can solve half of the refugee related problems.  

Whether the review process is carried by judiciary or civil servants or administrative officials, the need is to intensively train them in the ways in which most of the refugee deceive and exploit the system. Catching their lies and then throwing them out is the preferred alternative to making life miserable for all asylum claimants in a bid to discourage others from applying or tightening visa regulations that may not even provide persons with real need an opportunity to seek asylum in Canada.  

Of course, there is a people smuggling industry in operation, but we need to keep some factors in mind before putting all the blame on its shoulders. First, more than half of illegal entrants in Canada are those who have either obtained US or Canadian visa before leaving their home. It is the responsibility of those who are doing background checks to investigate the veracity of each case and present the facts to IRB.  

The inclination to avoid doing this on the part of concerned officials confirms the effectiveness of the tactic undertaken. As a result, it becomes a standard way of deception for other fake asylum seekers to follow. For instance, a person obtains a US visa in the name of Azirur Rehman, comes to the US, lives there illegally and when the going gets tough he crosses the border into Canada, and adds Sajjad as the last name. He tells a story that human smugglers helped him reach the US and from there he crossed the border into Canada. A simple search in the US consulates in Pakistan will confirm the false story and with it will make the whole fake case for asylum go up in smoke.  

This is just one example. Learning about and filling in loopholes like this would save Canada from thousands of cheaters who eventually gain their Canadian citizenship. International cooperation in the background check of claimants will prove more effective than international standardization of immigration policies.  

Human smuggling to the US has become virtually impossible. Anyone entering Canada from the US, claiming that agents helped him reach US is definitely a liar, and would certainly have a visa record in the respective US consulate abroad. It is only a matter of will for the Canadian authorities to look into it.  

The major weakness lies in recognizing false documentation. Even hiring individuals, not necessarily forged documentation experts, from the respective countries would help the authorities in identification of system abusers. One who knows the reality feels shocked at the ease with which not only the independent decision makers but also the government officials are deceived with the so-obvious forgeries.  

For example, a claimant submits that Mufti Khan Muhammad issued a Fatwa against him which an organization, declared by the US State Department as terrorist, has vowed to materialize. It shows that Mufti Khan Muhammad will definitely be a well known personality, say, in Pakistan. His case is accepted without any attempt to check out the facts. In this case, even a simple internet search would be sufficient to reveal that no nationally recognized Mufti by that name of Khan Muhammad is in that country.  

Failure to deal with such cases opens the way for other abusers like a chain reaction. Instead of suggesting small but effective steps, the Fraser Institute and others like it suggest policy makers to take initiatives of unprecedented magnitude with many negative consequences in the long run.  

Closing doors on asylum seekers is one thing and making the system more effective in order to weed out blatant abusers is totally another. The focus should be on the latter. The scrutiny must not end with the acceptance of the claimants, many of whom purchase car the next week of their acceptance despite being on social welfare and visit the same countries where they were oppressed as soon as they get a Canadian passport, or sponsor the same spouses they claimed protection against. This is to mention just a few indicators, which would help in post-positive-decision checks on refugees.  

Even the draconian efforts on part of the US or Australian governments do not save these countries from the curse of illegal immigration. It is better to have the present liberal policy and having the opportunity to properly scrutinize each case rather than living with 10 million illegal immigrants.  

The only factor that turns the Canadian system into a "self-selected immigration program" is the lack of competence to identify the clearly unfounded cases. An expedited process is a very good suggestion, which would also reduce the crucial time the potential abusers get to develop fake documents while sitting in Canada.  

This writer, for instance, knows a case that is due for hearing in the first week of February. Despite having the one year waiting period, the evidence is still under development. One can also bet with 100 per cent certainty that, given the circumstances, the person will definitely beat the system, not because the evidence is perfect, but because there is not enough competence or will to properly scrutinize it. This should not shift the blame to government for having a "dysfunctional policy" or close the doors so that even the deserving cases could not get an opportunity to seek protection.  

To counter hackers, most of the software firms have hired even convicted hackers to help them find out weaknesses in their systems. Human smugglers sitting outside Canada are not responsible for the unprecedented acceptance rate in Canada as much as are the quack adviser-cum-lawyers sitting inside Canada. It is time for pre and post acceptance scrutiny and analysis with the help of such abusers.  

Instead of forcing the government to adopt policies developed for totally different sets of circumstances; or shifting blame from one wing of the government to another; or running media campaigns that would further stigmatize refugees; or shifting responsibility from independent decision makers to civil servants, it would be worth while if the government of Canada provided training assistance to all the concerned authorities.  

The training material, however, needs to be carefully developed in close collaboration with those who have full knowledge of the ways in which this system is abused. It is interesting to note that these quack lawyers, who teach people about how to abuse this system, are still absent from the screen. Meanwhile too much blame for the failure is circulated.  

The key to understanding the refugee "problem" lies in interacting with and living among them, not in sending them to camps as the Fraser report would suggest. Similarly, the key to reform not necessarily only lies in restructuring the system from scratch but in saving it from abusers and putting standards of fairness in place.

Notes:

[1]. Lena Sokoll, “Deportations and the border regime, The deadly consequences of Germany’s refugee policy, SWS, 8 January 2004. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/jan2004/germ-j08.shtml  

[2]. Martin Kreickenbaum, “Thousands of refugees perish on European Union borders,” United network documents nearly 4,000 deaths in 10 years, SWS, 23 July 2003. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/jul2003/ref-j23.shtml Also see how the developed countries in Europe are making a mockery of the international protection of refugees for political end. See: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/jun2003/asyl-j17.shtml . Millions are suffering in the developing countries due to other policies of the developed world. Canadians need not feel bad if their immigration policy could save a few thousand from dying at the hands of repressive regimes mostly sponsored by the developed countries.  

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