Canada ends asylum-seeker policy to dissuade asylum seekers

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Canada has ended a long-standing policy requiring asylum-seekers coming from other countries to prove they are fleeing a real risk of persecution.

The change will apply to all countries within a 160-mile (260km) “safe country” border.

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Under the policy introduced in 2003, people claiming refugee status in Canada who entered the country from countries outside the 16 covered by the policy had to demonstrate they faced persecution or some other form of “special threat”.

Nearly 50,000 people in the first half of 2018 sought refugee status across Canada, many of them crossing into the United States on the border between Quebec and New York, according to federal government data.

Critics say the 2003 policy led to arbitrary and inconsistent policy decisions, including that of repatriating migrants seeking asylum from the United States after they had claimed their refugee status.

Under the new policy, an asylum-seeker arriving in Canada from a covered country will be treated the same way regardless of whether they were brought across the border or, as is increasingly common, made their way north by swimming or walking across the frozen St Lawrence river.

The Canadian immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, said the change addressed a specific problem with border security. “It ensures a more humane approach,” he said in a statement.

But opponents said a more effective solution was for Canada to force migrants to undergo credible fear interviews and prove their refugee claims by substantiating specific claims of repression or human rights violations.

A group of nine Canadian ministers from the governing Liberals – the justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, and the citizenship and immigration, Ahmed Hussen and the immigration, refugees and citizenship ministers, François-Philippe Champagne, and Jane Philpott – earlier this month discussed a plan to provide more funding to support the immigration authorities to accelerate this process.

In 2016 the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimated there were five million people fleeing to neighbouring countries from “more than 30 countries” around the world, with Africa and the Middle East accounting for about half of those, and North Africa and Europe for the remainder.

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