Canada Must Stop Leaving Refugees Behind in COVID-19 Response

Amnesty International is disappointed in Canada’s decision to renew a measure banning refugee claimants from crossing into Canada from the US. Some claimants seeking to enter Canada have already been turned back to an uncertain fate in the US, potentially in violation of Canada’s international legal obligations under the Refugee Convention and the Convention Against Torture.

The federal government has introduced some positive exceptions to the general ban it introduced last month. People crossing at land ports of entry who were exempt under the Safe Third Country Agreement will now be permitted to make their claims in Canada, as will US citizens, stateless persons and minors regardless of how they arrive. However, Amnesty International maintains that the measure puts some refugee claimants in danger and is out of step with public health measures.

“Although the government of Canada continues to insist that it takes its non-refoulement obligations seriously, there is no legal basis to support that claim,” said Marisa Berry Mendez, Tactical and Crisis Campaigner at Amnistie internationale Canada francophone. “For weeks now, we have heard about an arrangement between the US and Canada, but the details have never been disclosed. There is a total lack of transparency about what happens to claimants who are denied entry at the border,” she added.

The decision to renew the refugee ban comes on the heels of a worrying new policy adopted by the Trump administration. It allows for the expulsion of migrants, including possible refugee protection claimants, from the US without a hearing to the “country of last transit or home country.” Disturbingly, it contains no exemption for unaccompanied minors. It has already been used to expel thousands of migrants on the US southern border, including children, as well as a handful of migrants on the northern border. It is yet unclear whether refugee protection claimants who are refused entry into Canada at the US border could be swept up in the policy.

Of the new US policy, Justin Mohammed, Human Rights Law and Policy Campaigner, said the following: “this policy decision is only the latest salvo in Donald Trump’s ruthless campaign to systematically dismantle refugee protection in the US.  Is it acceptable for Canada to deny refugee protection claimants entry when they face the possibility of detention in inhumane conditions, or even summary expulsion from the US? We know there is a better way. These refugee protection claimants could easily be subject to quarantines and testing right here in Canada, as is the case for other cross border travellers who are allowed to enter Canada.”

The renewed border measure, as outlined in the Order in Council, is valid until 21 May 2020.