October 28, 2010
Abusing Canada’s Generosity and Ignoring Genuine Refugees
An Analysis of Current and Still-needed Reforms to Canada’s Refugee and Immigration System
Canada’s refugee asylum system is in disarray for the following reasons:
• It does not serve the needs of genuine refugees;
• It is extremely expensive;
• It encourages and rewards human smuggling;
• It has damaged our bilateral relations with many friendly countries and it compromises our trade and tourism industries;
• It undermines every effort to maintain the security and safety of Canadians and is the primary reason our southern border has been, in effect, militarized and why Canadian goods, services and people can no longer cross the border quickly and freely;
• It is a system dominated by special interest groups—immigration lawyers, consultants, non-governmental organizations and agencies that are given millions of taxpayers’ dollars to deliver services and legal aid to asylum seekers, and by other human rights activists and ethnic organizations that advocate for more-generous asylum legislation;
• It is out of step with other countries that are trying to stop the flow of asylum seekers.
Unlike other countries, Canada allows almost unlimited access
Canada permits anyone from any country to claim asylum and to apply for refugee status. Applicants gain entry by claiming to be persecuted in their own country. In 2008, people from 188 countries claimed asylum, and many of them came from countries that share our democratic traditions and are signatories to the United Nations Refugee Convention, which obligates them to protect refugees (Citizenship and Immigration, 2008).
A key weakness of our asylum system is that it cannot quickly distinguish between those who need protection from genuine persecution and those who abuse the system and avoid normal immigration rules. As a result, the process is bogged down by frivolous and unfounded claims.
For example, in 2008, there were claimants from 22 of the 27 European Union (EU) countries—including Germany, England, France and Belgium. Approximately 2,300 claims originated in the United States—a country that leads the Western world in receiving asylum claims. These statistics illustrate why Canada’s system has become a travesty of what the UN Convention was designed to do (Citizenship and Immigration, 2008).
EU countries long ago introduced prescreening processes to sort out frivolous claims, and they have accelerated procedures for dealing with claimants who originate from countries that are safe for refugees. Many countries reduced welfare benefits and other services for asylum seekers, and others do not permit asylum seekers to work. These methods were implemented so that fraudulent claimants who were really migrants did not overwhelm their asylum systems.
The growing number of refugees and the growing costs to Canada
It is estimated that roughly 800,000 asylum seekers entered Canada in the past 25 years. In the past two years, more than 70,000 claims were registered. This is almost 3,000 per month.
Considering there is already a backlog of approximately 60,000 claims waiting to be heard by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), it is not alarmist to think that the system is out of control (Citizenship and Immigration, 2010).
In 2009, Canada became the third-largest receiver of asylum seekers (33,000) in the Western world after the United States (49,000) and France (42,000). On a per capita basis, however, we rank first with one claim for every 1,000 people compared with the United States with one claim per 11,000 people (Citizenship and Immigration, 2010).
Perhaps the most insidious feature of Canada’s asylum system is its enormous financial costs and the naïve presumption that the sums involved are justified because we are helping people who simply claim to be refugees.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine the actual costs because they are spread over three levels of government: federal, provincial and local—and involve a wide variety of activities such as housing, welfare, legal and medical fees as well as the operational cost of the IRB itself, which is expected to reach just over $117-million in 2010 (IRB, 2010).
In 2008, Canada received 37,000 asylum seekers and approximately 60 per cent of these will be refused refugee status by the IRB. Since the government estimates each failed asylum seeker costs $50,000 we can calculate that in 2008 the taxpayers faced a bill of approximately $1.11-billion just to deal with the number of refused cases in the 2008 flow. (Citizenship and Immigration, 2010a).
Added to the costs are those required to deal with the existing backlog. Even if the costs of the 2008 failed cases are subtracted from the backlog, its numbers have been supplemented by the 33,000 new asylum arrivals in 2009 so the backlog figure of 60,000 would remain at approximately the current level. The costs of dealing with its failure rate of approximately 60 percent would be close to $1.8-billion.
Moreover, we are not told the figures for those who end up being granted refugee status, and the costs do not end when the asylum seeker changes status.
These are sobering numbers and they illustrate the urgent need for reform. It is little wonder that Quebec complained in 2008 that the 6,000 Mexican asylum seekers in that province had cost more than $171-million even though 90 per cent of the claims were found to be false.
Lastly, permitting 30,000 to 40,000 people to enter Canada freely each year without first screening them for medical, criminal, or security issues is irresponsible, and to assume that all of these people are refugees fleeing torture and death makes a mockery of border control.
View entire study in PDF (48 Pages)
The Frontier Centre for Public Policy
is an independent public policy think tank whose mission is "to broaden the debate on our future through public policy research and education and to explore positive changes within our public institutions that support economic growth and opportunity."