U.S.-Canada pact could split kids from families fleeing to Canada: refugee group
Safe Third Country Agreement is meant to prevent asylum-shopping
A national organization that advocates for refugees wants Canada to scrap a controversial pact with the United States it says will separate families who are fleeing to the Canadian border in search of a new life.
- 21 asylum seekers crossed into Manitoba Saturday
- Syrian family crosses into Quebec from U.S. in -15C weather
- Somali asylum seekers en route to Canada caught, turned back by U.S. border officials
The 2004 Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement allows refugee claimants coming from the United States to enter Canada under a few circumstances, including if the claimant is an unaccompanied minor or has a relative in Canada.
The agreement means if a parent comes to the border with a child and wants to enter Canada but doesn't have a relative themselves in the country, the child may enter but the parent may not.
"It separates children from their parents," said Janet Dench, the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.
"So you have a family that's split where the kids enter and the mother does not," Dench said.
"It seems such a complete nonsense for Canada to be imposing this separation, like what on Earth are we gaining?"
Dench said she knows of cases at Canadian border crossings where kids have been separated from their parents including a 16-year-old Syrian girl who, she said, still hasn't found her family.
"She was absolutely desperate. It was (a) very difficult situation because she was very traumatized by the fact of having fled and then to be here in Canada on her own with her parents over the border in the United States."
Families entered Canada by foot Saturday
On Saturday, in the wee hours of the morning, at least 21 asylum-seekers — including a family with children — made their way into Manitoba on foot near the Emerson border.
Manitoba RCMP spokeswoman Tara Seel said Mounties took 21 people into custody for illegally crossing the border near Emerson on Saturday.
She said all asked to make refugee claims and were taken to meet with the Canada Border Services Agency to make the claims.
Dench said the Third Safe Country Agreement, which requires asylum-seekers to make a refugee claim in the first country they arrive in — either the United States or Canada — encourages refugees to take desperate measures, including sneaking across the border to make their claims.
It's meant to prevent refugee claimants from asylum-shopping by forcing them to make a refugee application in the first safe country they arrive in.
The agreement, however, has come under heavy public fire from refugee and newcomer advocates, lawyers and law students, who argue the agreement should be scrapped in light of U.S. President Donald Trump's presidency.
- Why asylum seekers risk their lives sneaking into Canada
- Record number of refugees checking in at Welcome Place
- The Current: Repeal Safe Third Country Agreement, say immigration lawyers
They argue the U.S. is no longer a safe country for refugees.
CBC News has asked for comment from Minister of Immigration Ahmed Hussen, but has yet to hear back.