RCMP questionnaire for asylum seekers targeted Muslims, asking them about head coverings, terrorist groups

Kellie Leitch’s value testing in action:

The emergence of an RCMP questionnaire targeting Muslim asylum seekers in Quebec sparked criticism Thursday that the Liberal government mismanaged last summer’s massive flow of migrants from the United States.

The questionnaire was used at the Quebec border crossing that saw an influx of thousands of asylum seekers from the U.S., many of them of Haitian descent who were concerned about the Trump administration’s decision to cancel a program that allowed them to stay in the country.

Among other things, the questionnaire asked opinions about religious practice, head coverings associated with Muslim women and terrorist groups with mainly Muslim members.

Toronto immigration lawyer Clifford McCarten said he obtained a copy of the document from a client seeking refugee status, who had been given the three-page, 41-question document by mistake.

“He was shocked by the questions,” said McCarten, who provided a copy to The Canadian Press.

The man was originally from a Muslim country, he added.

“Canada is a very liberal country that believes in freedom of religious practice and equality between men and women. What is your opinion of this subject? How would you feel if your boss was a woman? How do you feel about women who do not wear the hijab?” says the questionnaire, which also asked the same question about other head and body coverings, including the dupatta, niqab, chador and burka.

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the government found out on Tuesday about the existence of the questionnaire from a “stakeholder” who takes an interest in the work of the department.

Public Safety Spokesman Scott Bardsley said the department was immediately concerned and the document is no longer being used by the RCMP.

“Some of the questions were inappropriate and inconsistent with government policy,” Bardsley said in an emailed statement.

Bardsley said the document was only used “locally,” but would not say whether there would be repercussions for any of the Mounties involved in its creation.

He referred those questions to the RCMP, but a spokeswoman said Thursday the Mounties would not be granting interviews on the topic. In a written statement, the RCMP said the “interview guide” was used by its Quebec C Division and “has been revised to better evaluate individuals coming into the country whose origin is unknown, while being respectful of their situations.”

McCarten said the existence of the document raises questions about the federal government’s competence in managing the sudden surge of arrivals from the U.S.

“If, in fact, this was a local detachment making this decision — which I find a bit hard to believe — then it’s deeply concerning that one of the most, if not the most problematic crisis spot in Canadian immigration and refugee policy right now . . . doesn’t have a federal strategy for how screening is happening.”

The New Democrats said the government needed to show more leadership in dealing with the influx of asylum seekers.

“Canadians need to be assured that security measures are in place, but this looks more like religious profiling,” Matthew Dube, the NDP public safety critic said in a statement.

“Either the minister was aware this was taking place and did nothing or he doesn’t have a handle on what practices are being used.”

Jenny Kwan, the NDP immigration critic, said the government needs to provide more answers on how the questionnaire was used.

“The number of times someone prays should have no bearing on their refugee status. That is not who we are,” she said.

Other questions asked the applicants to specify their religion and “how often” they practice their religion.

McCarten said the RCMP needs to conduct security screening, but the questions being asked don’t cover all potential threats to Canada.

“It appears to instruct RCMP officers to be asking questions to the exclusion of other types of concerns, specifically the right-wing, white supremacist violence happening in the U.S. and that we have a history of in Canada,” he said.

“It asks questions that are discriminatory, that reflect a kind of institutional bias and an institutional ignorance of the RCMP of the nature of risk.”

He said asking a Muslim their opinion of head coverings is “absurd” and akin to “asking a Jewish person what their opinions are about men who don’t wear the yarmulke.”

McCarten said the document reflects on the RCMP as a whole, and shows “a kind of Islamaphobic bias that is animating how it does its business.”

Source: RCMP questionnaire for asylum seekers targeted Muslims, asking them about head coverings, terrorist groups | National Post

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Thousands of refugee claims from asylum seekers remain unprocessed: federal immigration officials

One of the few articles with more detailed numbers, showing the relatively small number of claims that have been processed to date compared to the number of asylum seeks (13,000):

Only 300 refugee claims filed by the thousands of asylum seekers flowing across the Canadian border in Quebec in recent months have been processed by the federal tribunal that decides who gets refugee status, officials told the House Immigration and Citizenship Committee on Tuesday.

Only half of those 300 asylum seekers have been granted refugee status, representatives from the federal Immigration and Refugee Board revealed in testimony to the committee.

The surge in asylum seekers crossing into Canada slowed in the first half of September; IRB officials told the committee that from Sept. 1-17 about 2,000 asylum claims were filed from those who illegally entered Canada, a drop from the more than 8,000 claims made in July and August.

Asylum seekers who illegally entered Canada have filed roughly 13,000 refugee claims this year, according to officials from the IRB, which is responsible for assessing the validity of refugee claims.

In response to a question about why it had only processed 300 of the claims so far, IRB spokesperson Anna Pape wrote in a written statement to The Hill Times that it was “based on the readiness of the claims to proceed to a hearing and our capacity to hear them.”

“Although the [Refugee Protection Division] makes every effort to be as efficient as possible in it’s scheduling it can sometimes be faced with cases that cannot proceed for reasons outside of its control,” Ms. Pape wrote, referring to the division of IRB tasked with handling the refugee claimants.

Many of the recent asylum seekers have crossed the southern Quebec border, leaving the United States to avoid a possible deportation from there to another country, including 1,928 Haitians this year, according to the IRB.

President Donald Trump announced an extension in May to the temporary protection status given to Haitian nationals in the U.S. after the island nation’s horrific 2010 earthquake, but only until January 2018.

A large number of refugees arriving in Quebec are also from Colombia and Burundi, while many were born in the United States, according to the IRB. Around 60 per cent of Quebec border crossers were male, and 20 per cent were children, with a sizeable number of families arriving together.

Source: Thousands of refugee claims from asylum seekers remain unprocessed: federal immigration officials – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

Trump Administration To Drop Refugee Cap To 45,000, Lowest In Years : NPR

A smaller percentage than others. USA already had far fewer refugees than others in 2016:

EU USA Canada Australia
2016 Population

510,100,000

323,100,000

36,290,000

24,130,000

Refugees resettled or granted asylum

720,000

84,994

58,910

17,955

Per capita percent

0.14%

0.03%

0.16%

0.07%

The Trump administration plans to cap the number of refugees the U.S. will accept next year at 45,000. That is a dramatic drop from the level set by the Obama administration and would be the lowest number in years.

The White House formally announced its plans in a report to congressional leaders Wednesday, as required by law.

The number of refugees the U.S. admits has fluctuated over time. But this cap is the lowest that any White House has sought since the president began setting the ceiling on refugee admissions in 1980.

Refugee resettlement agencies are disappointed with the 45,000 cap, which they say falls far short of what is necessary to meet growing humanitarian needs around the world. They had recommended a limit of at least 75,000.

Last year, the Obama administration set the cap at 110,000. Only about half that number have been admitted, after the Trump administration put the entire refugee resettlement program on hold under its travel ban executive orders.

“Churches and communities, employers and mayors, are heartsick at the administration’s callous and tragic decision to deny welcome to refugees most in need,” said Linda Hartke, the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of largest resettlement agencies in the country.

The debate over refugees is often framed as a clash between humanitarian goals and national security.

But Trump administration also argues that the U.S. spends millions of dollars a year to screen and resettle refugees and to help them once they arrive.

“For the cost of resettling one refugee in the U.S., we can assist more than 10 in their home region,” President Trump said in a speech to the United Nations earlier this month.

Once they arrive, refugees qualify for many social services, including health care, food stamps and cash assistance. Many of those costs fall on state and local governments, and some states are pushing back.

Earlier this year, Tennessee took the federal government to court over refugee resettlement.

“The bottom line is the federal government is coercing the state of Tennessee to spend Tennessee taxpayers monies in ways that some individual Tennesseans disagree with,” Republican state Sen. John Stevens told member station WPLN in March.

But many mayors across the country see refugees as an economic boon for their cities.

“These people are paying taxes. They’re buying houses. They’re going into our schools,” said Stephanie Miner, the mayor of Syracuse, N.Y.

Miner, a Democrat, says refugees are helping revitalize the city’s north side, which was home to Italian and German immigrants before them.

Source: Trump Administration To Drop Refugee Cap To 45,000, Lowest In Years : NPR

ICYMI: How Canada has been secretly giving asylum to gay people in Chechnya fleeing persecution

Good long read on the Government’s program to give asylum to Chechnyan gays (the Conservative government was similarly supportive of Iranian LGBTQ asylum seekers: Canada a haven for persecuted gay Iranians: Kenney | canada.com):

For three months, the federal government has been secretly spiriting gay Chechen men from Russia to Canada, under a clandestine program unique in the world.

The evacuations, spearheaded by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, fall outside the conventions of international law and could further impair already tense relations between Russia and Canada. But the Liberal government decided to act regardless.

As of this week, 22 people – about a third of those who were being sheltered in Russian safe houses – are now in Toronto and other Canadian cities. Several others are expected to arrive in the coming days or weeks.

“Canada accepted a large number of people who are in great danger, and that is wonderful,” said Tanya Lokshina, Russian program director for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization, in a telephone interview. “The Canadian government deserves much praise for showing such openness and goodwill to provide sanctuary for these people. They did the right thing.”

“It’s important that our community, who are concerned about them, know that they’re here, that they’re safe” – Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad

The decision may be seen as controversial. Homosexuals in many parts of the world are harassed, imprisoned, even – as happened recently in Indonesia – publicly flogged.

And the government is struggling to accommodate thousands of mostly Haitian asylum-seekers flooding into Canada from the United States, even as opposition politicians demand that Ottawa find a way to plug the loophole that lets them in.

But the Liberals decided the situation was unique: Chechen security forces were rounding up gay men in a program, placing them in need of immediate rescue.

Source: How Canada has been secretly giving asylum to gay people in Chechnya fleeing persecution – The Globe and Mail

Settlement agencies unprepared for volunteer surge amid refugee crisis: report

Not surprising given how rapidly public interest soared after the Alan Kurdi death and photo and 2015 election:

Many settlement agencies in Ontario were overwhelmed by a unexpected surge of volunteers looking to help the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees arriving in Canada since 2015 but were unable to tap into the additional help, a new study has found.

A report, published by the Together Project, which matches newcomers with groups of five or so volunteers, found the settlement sector was unprepared to deal with the surge of volunteer interest from Canadians. Many of the agencies did not have the experience or support to effectively mobilize the volunteer interest, the report stated.

“They didn’t have the institutional structures ready to take on board a lot of new volunteers,” said Craig Damian Smith, Together Project’s co-founder and research director. “People we talked to in the settlement sector said their phones were ringing every day and there were hundreds of people calling and wanting to volunteer but they had difficulty integrating these volunteers. Some people referred to it as too much help.”

Although the refugee crisis existed since 2011 when the war in Syria began, many Canadians hadn’t taken notice until the summer of 2015 – when images of the hundreds of thousands of refugees arriving on Europe’s shores were widely shared. The attention towards the crisis reached its peak on Sept. 2, 2015 when the world reacted in grief to the image of Alan Kurdi – a 3-year-old Syrian toddler who drowned trying to escape the war and was found on a beach.

Mr. Smith said around 80 per cent of the dozens of volunteers questioned in the study were driven to help after seeing media coverage of the crisis in 2015 as refugees crossed Europe for refuge. The study conducted surveys and field research across the province speaking to volunteers and settlement organizations.

The three-month, qualitative study identified ways to fill the gaps in service by fostering collaboration between the settlement sector, volunteer initiatives and volunteers. One of the main findings was that independent volunteer initiatives are necessary to integrate newcomers because settlement agencies do not have the history or capacity to efficiently recruit or manage large numbers of volunteers.

The Arab Community Centre of Toronto, which normally received around 10 volunteer applications a month, started receiving up to 40 a month in 2016, when the government was trying to resettle up to 50,000 Syrian refugees.

As the agency put all their resources and effort into supporting the unprecedented amount of newcomers, Zeena Al Hamdan, a manager at the centre, said it became difficult to accommodate the number of people wanting to help because they needed to be trained, recruited and screened.

Ms. Al Hamdan said her team had to act fast and implement structural changes in order to retain the volunteer interest. The centre recruited two volunteer co-ordinators responsible for supporting and integrating those wanting to help. Ms. Al Hamdan said she feels the organization is now ready to accommodate future surges in interest.

Effectively harnessing volunteer energy is an important part of ensuring support for refugee newcomers and integration, said Mr. Smith. His initiative aims to emulate the private sponsorship model by providing government-assisted refugees with a social support network of five or more volunteers.

John Scully, a volunteer at the Together Project, said he was driven to help because he felt he could learn from the experience and also make a difference in other people’s lives. Along with six other volunteers, he was matched with a family of four Syrian refugees. The volunteers help the newcomers with everything from filling applications to helping them preper for a driver’s test.

“I thought I could help out a little bit to provide an opportunity to some of the Syrian families to see a welcoming face and provide them with the chance to get support from us,” Mr. Scully said. “We visit once a week, and it is always something we look forward to very much.”

Source: Settlement agencies unprepared for volunteer surge amid refugee crisis: report – The Globe and Mail

How Canada can restore order to its immigration system: Anglin

Former deputy chief of staff to former PM Harper and chief of staff to former CIC/IRCC Minister Kenney Howard Anglin offers some suggestions to deal with the influx of irregular arrivals, rather than merely criticizing the government.

His first point, on joint border patrols, requires US agreement, as does the second point, amending the STCA to include irregular arrivals. Both are likely non-starters with the Trump administration as the border crossers are people they want to leave anyway. Anglin acknowledges that with respect to amending the STCA.

His other ideas are worthy of consideration although they will be anathema to some. If the government is confident about the US refugee determination system, as it has stated repeatedly, then accepting their determinations would be fully consistent with that confidence.

Equally controversial is his suggestion to deduct any increase in asylum seekers from the overall protected persons class (refugees) in order to maintain the overall share. But his logic is clear, even if Australia is not the best example to emulate regarding refugee (and citizenship) policy. But should, in the unlikely event the Canadian government would adapt this approach, it would retain the flexibility to change the numbers should circumstances warrant.

First, Canada should substantially increase joint border patrols with the U.S. to apprehend people attempting to cross illegally before they can. There is a precedent for this in the Shiprider program, in which the RCMP and the U.S. Coast Guard jointly patrol smuggling in the Great Lakes. This cooperation, which was formalized as part of the 2011 Beyond the Border Action Plan by then-president Barack Obama and former prime minister Stephen Harper, should be expanded to the land border at points of frequent illegal crossing. With a border as long and porous as ours, this will never be a complete solution, but even if it only slows the flow, it would give bite to Trudeau’s currently toothless request that migrants respect our laws.

Second, the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) should be tightened in two ways. Under the agreement, if an asylum-seeker presents himself at a regular port of entry on the Canada-U.S. land border, we will turn him back to make his asylum claim in the United States. But if he crosses outside a port of entry—even a few hundred yards to the side—he is permitted to make his asylum claim in Canada. To remove this incentive for law-breaking, the STCA should be extended, consistent with its underlying principles, to anyone coming directly from the United States, regardless of how or where they arrived.

We should also close the loophole allowing migrants coming from the United States to make an asylum claim in Canada if they have a family member here. The definition of “family member” in the STCA is much broader than the usual definition in Canadian immigration law, including not just parents and children but also siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. That wide net is made even wider by lax enforcement. If you turn up at the border at Windsor claiming to have an uncle in Montreal, there’s not much CBSA can do beyond making some phone calls. We rarely require strict documentary proof from both parties, let alone DNA testing, as we should (and could, without U.S. approval).

Unfortunately, the likelihood of the United States agreeing to close these loopholes is slim. Previous requests have been rebuffed, and changes that mean more people will make asylum claims in the United States rather than Canada must be about as low as you can get on the American foreign policy agenda. Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to ask and even to tie them to other negotiations over matters our neighbours do care about.

There are, however, two changes to the asylum system that we could make unilaterally. We could start by amending our laws to recognize American courts’ asylum decisions. Today, if an asylum seeker’s claim is rejected in the United States, he can walk across the border and make another one here. With reciprocal recognition and access to American asylum records, we could deny serial claimants a second kick at the can here. Trudeau and Hussen have recently reaffirmed their faith in the independence of the American asylum system and the idea that it satisfies Canadian standards of due process underlies the STCA. It’s time we took that idea to its logical conclusion.

The government could also copy Australia and amend the way we categorize and count refugees. Currently, the government sets annual immigration targets each year by category, which it submits to Parliament each autumn. In 2017, for example, as part of an overall total of 300,000 new immigrants, the government set a target of 25,000 for refugee resettlement and 15,000 for successful inland asylum claimants and their dependents. Unlike other immigration categories, which are within the government’s control, this last one is always an estimate. If many more asylum-seekers arrive in Canada, then we have no choice but to process them and to accept all successful claimants, even if they are over and above the stated target.

If we were to combine the two categories into a single class of humanitarian immigrants, then we could adjust the number of resettled refugees we admit each year to compensate for any inaccuracies in our estimate for the category of inland claimants. Using this year’s combined total of 40,000, if we end up accepting 20,000 asylum claims instead of the 15,000 the government predicted, we would reduce the number of overseas refugees we resettle from 25,000 to 20,000, keeping us within the overall target. If it’s not possible to be that nimble in adjusting resettlement numbers on an annual basis, then the total could be spread over two years, with next year’s number reduced instead (or increased in a year when we receive fewer successful inland asylum claims than predicted). A combined annual cap on all refugee immigration wouldn’t directly address the current flood of migrants, but it would be an important step towards regaining control over total immigration to Canada.

The government may have been slow to react to the migrant problem, but it isn’t too late for Trudeau and Hussen to restore order and reassure Canadians that our immigration system is as law-bound as they claim on Twitter. It will, however, take action as well as words. Decisive action, of the kind described above—backed up with tough words, of the kind Trudeau usually prefers to avoid.

Source: How Canada can restore order to its immigration system – Macleans.ca

The Man Raising an Army of Psychologists in Iraq

Good initiative and investment:

A year after helping more than 1,000 escaped ISIS captives resettle in Germany, Kurdish-German psychologist Jan Ilhan Kizilhan has returned to northern Iraq with a plan to save thousands of other psychologically scarred war victims left behind.

With backing from the German state of Baden-Württemberg, Kizilhan has set out to train a new generation of psychologists and trauma specialists he believes will be among the most qualified in the Middle East

After years of war, Iraq and Syria are struggling with a mental health crisis neither country has the capacity to address. In northern Iraq alone, where more than 1 million people are displaced by violence, just a couple dozen local psychologists are believed to be treating patients.

Various nongovernmental organizations and government initiatives have sought to fill the gaps, including Baden-Württemberg’s asylum program, which physically transported some of the most psychologically scarred women and children in northern Iraq to a part of the world where they could more easily access mental health care.

As a dark measure of the German program’s effectiveness, its directors boast that of its 1,100 beneficiaries—mostly women held as ISIS sex slaves and their children—not one has taken his or her own life in contrast to some other ISIS survivors who didn’t get a spot in the program.

Mindful of the deadly stakes for those left behind, Baden-Württemberg invested 1.3 million euros, a small fraction of its annual budget, into Kizilhan’s new institute, which aims to cultivate the experts where they’re needed.

The Institute for Psychology and Psychotraumatology sits on a neatly manicured hill at the University of Duhok in northern Iraq. On a sunny morning in May, the campus, set against the backdrop of picturesque mountains, hummed with the sounds of lawn mowers.

Just a short drive away, hundreds of thousands of displaced people live in sprawling camps, each one having risen up in the wake of an exodus—from an ISIS advance, bombings, or clashes. Just 40 miles to the south, chunks of Mosul lay in ruin from a months-long battle to oust ISIS from the populous city. Forty miles to the west: the Syrian quagmire. And despite the campus’ unblemished appearance, everyone at the school seems to have been touched by war.

Hewan Avssan Omer, a 26-year-old secretary at the institute, only escaped a 2014 ISIS attack on her village because she happened to be away at school. The militants kidnapped other members of her family, some of whom escaped just months ago. Omer’s 7-year-old cousin spent two and a half years in captivity and returned to society unable to speak his native Kurdish, confused about who his parents are and where he is from.

The staff’s proximity to and familiarity with the local crisis is intentional.

One of the biggest criticisms of the German program was that it exposed trauma victims to the additional stress of culture shock by transporting them to a foreign place.

At his office in Baden-Württemberg in early 2016, Kizilhan said the United Nations refugee agency was one of the critics to raise this concern of detaching victims “from their roots.” The German team responded that it was a price they were willing to pay, at that precarious time, for potentially saving lives. “In Iraq they are living in camps, their parents are killed, they have no roots!” Kizilhan responded. “It’s ridiculous. They need stabilization and security before they can talk about how it felt to be raped and helpless. How do you do this in a tent?”

Source: The Man Raising an Army of Psychologists in Iraq

Malmö: The Swedish city where Syrian refugees and hipsters have bonded over food | The Independent

A good integration news story from Malmo for a change:

The main square of Malmö’s alternative Möllevången district bursts with colour on Saturdays. The open-air market is in full force; fulsome purple aubergines are stacked proudly next to emerald fronds of coriander and stallholders complain about the weather with friends in foreign tongues. This cosmopolitan corner of Malmö has transformed in recent years from a working class area to a radically multicultural district, where hipsters and refugees rub shoulders. It’s also a hub for some of the most authentic Syrian food outside of Syria.

In 2015, at the peak of the crisis in Syria, Sweden took in more Syrian refugees per capita than any other European country. Of the 163,000 refugees who arrived there in 2015, 32,000 were granted asylum and many of those chose to come to Malmö, where there was already a growing Middle Eastern population.

Shamiat was the first Syrian restaurant in Malmö, founded on 1 October 2013. I visit the branch in Bergsgatan, five minutes from the square. Inside, owner Maurice Salloum twirls the ends of his handlebar moustache ruminatively as his staff lay out a feast of mezze. Salloum arrived in Malmö in 2012, at the start of the civil war, and it took him 18 days to get to Sweden from his home in Damascus. Last year Shamiat was named best Middle Eastern restaurant by a local newspaper. It was the cementing of Salloum’s place in this new city.

“I was feeling fantastic,” he says. “I was very happy and proud that the Swedish people have accepted me to be here in this country”. But he still worries that not all Swedes have accepted the migrant population. There was a terrorist attack in Stockholm in April, perpetrated by a rejected asylum seeker from Uzbekistan who announced his sympathy with Isis. “This made me very sad,” says Salloum, “I baked bread that day and went out there to give the bread away for free.”

Salloum decided to open his restaurant because he saw a gap in the market. The name of the restaurant means “Damascene,” and is also a name for a dish which is only found in Damascus.

“Before we came, there was no Damascene food available in Malmö, so we work hard to give customers something special and unique,” he adds.

I try the fattoush, a salad of roughly chopped leaves, pepper wedges, olives and fried flatbread, drenched in pomegranate syrup. “It’s a very nice, typical dish, a bit like tabbouleh,” says Salloum. It is sharp and sweet and rustic – and nothing like tabbouleh.

The trend for Middle Eastern cuisine was first brought to Malmö by Lebanese and Turkish immigrants, who created the foundations of a food scene that, in turn, helped the Syrian restaurants to flourish here.

Down the road on Baltzarsgatan 21 is Laziza, a modern Lebanese restaurant whose bountiful buffet food attracts 300 customers a day. The owner, Sadoo Iskandarani, says his grandfather opened up the very first falafel place in Malmö.

“He was my idol,” he says. “He was good with bread and falafel. In the Nineties he started a cart selling falafel in Helsingborg and people loved it. The teachers came to eat there and the police officers came, then maybe 20 bikers would come and stand in line, queuing for falafel.

“I think Malmö has the best of all the cultures that live here and that food is building the bridges between the cultures.”

The most recent addition to Malmö’s Syrian restaurant scene is Ayam Dimashq, which roughly translates as “Days of our life in Damascus”. It’s north of Möllevången, on the borders of the Varnhem and Carolikvarteren districts, on Östra Förstadsgatan.

Chef-owner Huni Awwad opened it just nine months ago. He came to Sweden four years ago, when he was 39. Unlike many of the younger men who move to Sweden from Syria, Huni was already well-established with his own large, successful restaurant back in Damascus, called Peacebird.

Ayam is beautifully designed, with a modern, geometric logo and tapestries depicting landmarks and streets in Damascus, with small details picked out in gold thread.

“Everything’s coming together fast here,” says Huni. “In my country everything is a little bit slower, but I come here, open a restaurant, get married and have a boy – and I have another boy on the way – all in four years!”

He came here by boat; it took him five attempts.

“I don’t know why I made it on the fifth attempt but I thought to myself, ‘I can’t turn back this time. I might die, but I can’t turn back. ’Luckily I am here, so it’s good.”

His fattah is a warm blend of pureed chickpeas, yoghurt and sesame, with soft pieces of flatbread melting underneath. It’s topped with toasted cashews, pomegranate seeds, fried strips of flatbread, pine nuts and sprinkled with sumac. The flavours are beautiful.

Awwad’s life seems to have fallen into place here, but the move from Syria was a necessity, not a choice. He works a long day; it’s Ramadan and Midsummer, so he’ll stay open until 4am for his Muslim customers to break their fast.

“It is very hard when you change your whole life,” he says. “It is a good life here, very good, people are very nice and I think my life here resembles my life in Damascus – but it is not my life. My heart is in Damascus.” He looks up at the wall-hanging depicting a winding cobbled street lined with ancient buildings. “I hope one day to walk these streets again, and taste the food of home.”

Source: Malmö: The Swedish city where Syrian refugees and hipsters have bonded over food | The Independent

Refugee approval rates reflect subjectivity of decision-makers, prof says

Rehaag does good serious analysis, demonstrating the challenge of ensuring consistency among a diverse group of decision-makers. The replacement of political appointees by public servants appears to have reduced somewhat the previously wide variation among decision-makers:

The rate at which refugee claims are accepted by Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board varies widely depending on who hears the case, according to a professor who obtained data from the federal government.

Sean Rehaag is an associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto, who specializes in immigration and refugee law and human rights. Through an access to information request, he was able to obtain IRB decisions for refugee claims filed in 2016.

‘Some board members are just more likely to believe claimants than other board members.’ Sean Rehaag, university professor

He found a wide variability in acceptance rates, from as low as a quarter of cases heard to a high of 96 per cent.

“I do think that who we appoint as decision-makers really matters,” said Rehaag, specifying it is important to “appoint people who have a solid understanding of refugee law and who are not predisposed to denying claims.”

Rehaag’s work may provide insight into how the 7,000 asylum seekers who have crossed the border on foot at Roxham Road in Hemmingford, Que., will be handled over the next few months as they begin to appear in front of the IRB to test their refugee claims.

Some of that variability in deciding cases is due to the fact that different board members can specialize in different regions of the world.

“It makes perfect sense that if you are mostly hearing cases today from, let’s say, Syria, you are going to have a much higher grant rate than if you were mostly hearing cases from Western European countries, because Syria is much less safe,” said Rehaag.

But even when specializations are taken into account, said Rehaag, there’s still a lot of variation.

“My view is that the variation that remains reflects subjectivity in decision-making,” he said.

Variance to be expected, IRB says

In a statement, IRB spokesperson Line-Alice Guibert-Wolff said variance in acceptance rates from one member to another is to be expected.

“Members render decisions based on the evidence and argumentation presented (or not presented) and each refugee protection claim is unique, and must be determined on its individual merit,” she wrote, adding that there are many factors that impact a decision.

While consistency in its decision-making is the goal, Guibert-Wolff said that, in a quasi-judicial setting where each case is determined on its own merits, based on the evidence presented, consistency is not always possible.

However, the variance in acceptance rates is subject to a periodic review.

New system better than old one

The process for people seeking asylum in Canada changed in 2012, affecting how cases were heard and who heard them. Under the old system, decision-makers were political appointees, but under the reformed system, the decision-makers are public servants who are appointed instead.

As a result, Rehaag noticed a change in how many cases are accepted.

“There used to be decision-makers who denied every single case that they heard over several years. Those were political appointees and that no longer happens,” he said. “There is still subjectivity in decision-making, but it’s not as bad as it was before.

“To me, though, the biggest challenge that the Immigration and Refugee Board is facing right now is a resourcing question,” said Rehaag.

Procedural protections

One way to change the variation rate is to create procedural protections, similar to the criminal justice system.

For example, many asylum seekers are denied access to appeal, which Rehaag said would never happen in a criminal law context.

In 2016, 33 per cent of appeals were granted, a rate Rehaag characterizes as “remarkably high.”

Some claimants, especially those who came to Canada through the United States, are denied access to appeal and are ineligible for automatic stays of removal pending judicial review at the Federal Court.

That means once they’ve gotten a negative decision, they are forced to leave Canada quickly.

IRB spokesperson Guibert-Wolff said the majority of refugee claimants can appeal to the refugee appeal division, except if they fall under a few categories listed.

He said the government must properly fund the IRB so that there are not only enough decision-makers, but administrators, managers and support staff for the system to work smoothly.

Source: Refugee approval rates reflect subjectivity of decision-makers, prof says – Montreal – CBC News

Will Haitians force Trudeau into being hard-hearted? Andrew MacDougall

I always find MacDougalls’ (former Harper PMO Director of Communications) commentary valuable and thoughtful given his conservative perspective is expressed and argued in a largely non-partisan manner (in contrast to some former CPC staffers such as Candice Malcolm and Mark Bonokoski in Sun media).

This piece is no exception:

It’s summertime, and the border crossing is easy.

What was once a slow trickle of bodies from the United States to Canada threatens to become a steady flow. And instead of Muslims fleeing the imprecise scope of Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” across the Manitoba border, it’s now worried Haitians who form the majority of those seeking sanctuary this summer in Quebec.

Why Haitians? Why now?

Essentially, those who fled Haiti in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake have been spooked by a change to their status in the United States under the Trump administration. And so they’re fleeing again. But it’s to a place where a similar change has already been made; Canada sends its failed Haitian claimants back to Haiti.

The particulars don’t matter; the Haitians are here, and more are coming because they think Canada is a soft mark. The Big O(we) in downtown Montreal is even being converted to a shelter for their arrival. And if they come in stadium-sized numbers it means a hard choice is coming for Justin Trudeau.

And it’s a choice (somewhat) of the prime minister’s own making.

When President Donald Trump unveiled his inaugural “Muslim ban” Trudeau responded with a tweet declaring: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #WelcometoCanada.”

It got great headlines at the time, and isn’t strictly applicable to the Haitians now coming, but what Trudeau is now finding out is that tacking on a sieve or a barrier to the sentiment expressed in that tweet is hard to do, especially when your political brand is basically that of the world’s saviour.

The Haitians in question aren’t fleeing persecution, terror, or war; they’d mostly rather not go back to Haiti. And every place they occupy in our asylum system is one less for those who are genuinely suffering.

Trudeau, for now, is holding firm. “Canada is a country that understands that immigration, welcoming refugees, is a source of strength for our communities,” Trudeau repeated last week. He also added, “protecting Canadians’ confidence in the integrity of our system allows us to continue to be open.”

The second half of the prime minister’s statement was, in Liberal eyes, butt-covering. But for a lot of Canadians, including the opposition Conservatives, it’s the operative half of the equation.

And right now that half is showing signs of severe strain.

A recent memo on the state of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) released under access-to-information highlights a massive backlog of claims and a system starved of needed resource.

The Trudeau government will either need to increase funding massively, turn down more people at the border, or — more likely — some combination of both to maintain “confidence in the integrity of our system.”

Doing so will be a tricky proposition for a government that has carefully cultivated its tolerant political brand. Any tightening of Canada’s policy under Trudeau could be seen as betrayal, no matter how justified it might be.

Fortunately, for Trudeau’s image anyway, there are no good policy options to stem the flow, at least not with a recalcitrant President Trump in the White House. Canada cannot do a rewrite of the laws on its own, and closing the loophole that allows the current arrivals would only force more people to official border posts, where dealing with migrants is even more difficult politically.

This situation would then seem to favour more cash to the refugee system, but no such funding was included in the most recent federal budget. The Trudeau government has instead opted for a “wide-ranging” review of the system, with a report due in the summer of 2018.

It appears, then, the Trudeau government is hoping to ride out the current situation, hoping the word eventually gets back to the tens of thousands of Haitians in the United States that things really are no better in Canada and that they should stay where they are. Then again, a years-long backlog for processing might still be the better alternative.

For their part, the Conservatives would do well to suggest a fix in addition to keeping up pressure on the government to act.

Who knows? Coming up with a helpful solution could help redeem Tories in the eyes of voters who might not trust them on these and other matters.

Source: Will Haitians force Trudeau into being hard-hearted? | Toronto Star