The Facts: Road to Freedom?

Canada has one the best records for treatment of refugees with innovative programmes and a strong humanitarian ethos. But will it survive?

THE FACTS

Refugees and asylum seekers: *70,000*

Percentage of world total: *0.47%*

Ratio of refugees to total population: *1 to 443*

Asylum approval rate:^2^ *58%*

Refugees mainly from: Hungary, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, China

Approval rates by nationality: Afghanistan (97%) Somalia (92%) Hungary (27%) *Pending asylum cases: 25,800*

HOW IT WORKS

Gil Moti / Still Pictures / www.stillpictures.com

*Fast*, comparatively. Within three days an immigration officer decides whether a claim is eligible to be heard; *decision-time* for refugee status is 10 months. Anyone guilty of a serious crime, human-rights abuses or deemed a security risk can be *immediately rejected. Appeals* can be made against *deportation* – but not if the person is being extradited or has come from a safe third country. Some 10,900 refugees were *resettled* in 2001 – healthcare and immigration loans are available.

COMMENT:

In the aftermath of 11 September refugee rights have *deteriorated* (see [article here](http://www.newint.org/issue350/criminal.htm)). In June 2002 Canada and the US signed a preliminary *agreement* that neither is obliged to accept asylum seekers arriving from a ‘safe third country’. Critics argue that the US system is far *harsher* than Canada’s and asylum seekers will suffer from such deals.

US

The traditional country of immigration is now in the grip of paranoia over domestic security. This is dictating refugee policy.

THE FACTS

Refugees and asylum seekers: *492,500*

Percentage of world total: *3.3%*

Ratio of refugees to US population: *1 to 578*

Asylum approval rate:^2^ *56.5%*

Refugees mainly from: Mexico, China, Colombia, Haiti, India, El Salvador

Approval rates by nationality: Mexico (7%) China (64%) Colombia (62.5%) Haiti (36%) India (57%) Somalia (81%) Afghanistan (89.5%) El Salvador (16%)

*Pending asylum cases: 396,000*

HOW IT WORKS

Spot decisions to deport can be made at the border if the asylum seeker does not have proper documents and no ‘credible fear of persecution’. It takes up to 180 days for *asylum claims* to be processed or referred to immigration judges. Asylum seekers can *appeal* against decisions. *Temporary Protected Status* may be granted to those who face ‘extraordinary and temporary conditions’ that prevent safe return. After 11 September the refugee programme was frozen and the use of *detention* increased. Data on numbers is withheld. The US also *interdicts at sea* would-be asylum claimants. *Public benefits* are not available to asylum seekers but they are entitled to limited cash and medical assistance. Permission to *work* is given if a claim has taken more than 180 days.

COMMENT:

The *USA PATRIOT Act* of 2001 has broadened the definition of ‘terrorism’, providing a *mandate to deport* or refuse entry to prospective immigrants and asylum applicants. It also enables the indefinite detention of any non-citizen the attorney general considers a *terrorist suspect*.

Britain

Britain’s new asylum policies claim to be aimed at ensuring both ‘secure borders’ and ‘safe havens’. Hypocrisy and confusion are its hallmarks.

THE FACTS

Refugees and asylum seekers:* *69,800**^7^*

Percentage of world total: *0.47%**

Ratio of refugees to British population: *1 in 972*

Asylum approval rate:^2,3^ *11.4%*

Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR): 23% of those rejected are given four-year protection from deportation

Refugees mainly from: Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Iran and Yugoslavia

Asylum applications pending: *39,400*

HOW IT WORKS

Britain makes use of both *detention* and ‘*dispersal*’ or enforced scattering of asylum seekers around the country. Under a new strategy, arrivals are to be held in secure ‘*induction centres*’, from there to be dispersed to accommodation centres. New large-scale detention centres are also planned. Asylum *decisions* can take years. Failed applicants can *appeal* via a new fast-track process. Financial *support* for asylum seekers is available at 70 per cent of normal income support. After six months asylum seekers may seek *work*. *Deportations* are set to rise dramatically. *Snatch squads* of immigration officers have powers to break into homes and make arrests.

COMMENT:

Arbitrary detention and accommodation centres *isolate* asylum seekers from the community. Britain’s focus on increased *border controls* and *removals* rather than protection mocks its position as signatory to the Geneva Convention, while new *anti-terrorism measures* further erode the rights of refugees.

Ireland

Immigration is new to Ireland, traditionally a country of emigration. It’s in no great rush to open its door.

Refugees and asylum seekers: *9,500*

Percentage of world total: *0.06%*

Asylum approval rate:^2,5^ *9%*

Refugees mainly from: Nigeria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Russian Federation, Croatia

*Pending asylum cases:* *8,200* (on first instance decisions)

HOW IT WORKS

Howard Davies / Exile Images / www.exileimages.co.uk

The system is slow: in February 2002 one in seven applicants had waited more than a year for a *decision*. The criteria for *rejection* is broad: an application may be declared ‘manifestly unfounded’ if an applicant refuses to have fingerprints taken. *Free legal aid* is available to all asylum seekers. *Appeals* against decisions must be made within two weeks. Anyone who receives a *deportation* order may apply for ‘Temporary Leave to Remain’. Asylum seekers are sent to remote *accommodation centres* on full board and reduced social welfare payments. Free *health* services and exceptional needs payments are provided. Asylum seekers are generally prohibited from *working*.

COMMENT:

A report by the Irish Refugee Council charges that the authorities have fast-tracked deporting asylum applicants to countries with well-documented histories of *human-rights abuses*, relying on outdated country information when assessing applications. Accelerated procedures highlight the Government’s priority of preventing *abuse of the process* rather than *protecting asylum seekers*.

Aotearoa

Aotearoa has shown itself more humane than many countries. However, recent events have tarnished its record.

THE FACTS

Refugees and asylum seekers: *2,700*

Percentage of world total: *0.02%*

Asylum approval rate:^2,5^ *18.7%*

Refugees mainly from: Thailand, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka

Applications pending: *1,424*

HOW IT WORKS

Asylum seekers are *rarely deported* until their cases are heard and decisions made by the New Zealand Immigration Service. This takes two months. If anyone overstays a visa by more than 42 days they can be deported immediately with no right of *appeal*. Asylum applicants are eligible for government-funded *legal help* and hostel accommodation for up to three months. They may receive one *work permit* per family while their claims are pending, and their children may attend school. *Detention* was rare in Aotearoa until 11 September, after which nearly all newly arrived asylum seekers are held.

COMMENT:

Refugee advocates in Australia and Aotearoa often compare the two countries’ policies. Australia *detains* virtually all asylum seekers while Aotearoa often lets them live and work in the *community*, providing comprehensive access to welfare services. When last year Aotearoa admitted 131 Afghan asylum seekers who had been among the 400 Afghans Australian had refused and taken to the remote island nation of Nauru instead, the contrast appeared even sharper. But Aotearoa’s response to 11 September sets a worrying precedent ( see [article here](http://www.newint.org/issue350/criminal.htm)).

Iran has taken in more refugees than any country in the world. Its treatment of them has become harsh.

THE FACTS

Refugees and asylum seekers: *2.55 million*

Percentage of world total: *17%*

Ratio of refugees to population: *1 to 26*

Mainly from: Afghanistan and Iraq

Iranians seeking resettlement outside Iran: *23,700* living in Iraq, *10,000* seeking asylum in Europe

HOW IT WORKS

Martin Adler / Panos Pictures / www.panos.co.uk

Labour laws used to be ignored and asylum seekers were allowed to work. But with unemployment high, the Government has clamped down. In 2001 *refugees* were *registered* as a means to *deport* those without work permits. Around 82,000 Afghan men and 8,300 families were deported between January and July 2001.^6^ During this time between around 1,000 Afghans continued to arrive daily in Iran. Around *111,000 Afghans* were returned to Afghanistan in the last six months of 2001. As the US and the Northern Alliance began their military campaigns Iran *closed its border* to new arrivals. Instead it set up two *border camps* just within Afghanistan which filled up so quickly hundreds of *women and children* had to be turned away.

COMMENT:

Iran’s harsh asylum policy must be seen in the context of the fact it receives around 17 per cent of the world’s total displaced peoples and little assistance from the international community.

  1. All statistics are taken from USCR (United States Committee for Refugees) unless otherwise stated. Figures are based on totals and projections at end of the fiscal year 2001.
  2. Approval rates calculated on basis of interview decisions, excluding closed or withdrawn cases.
  3. Not including appeals or ELR cases.
  4. Onshore applications, primary stage.
  5. Not including appeals.
  6. UNHCR figures.
  7. Figures stated in the Keynote are for the beginnng of 2002.

*WARNING:* statistics on refugees are often inexact and controversial. Those used on these pages represent USCR’s ‘best judgement’.

  1. All statistics are taken from USCR (United States Committee for Refugees) unless otherwise stated. Figures are based on totals and projections at end of the fiscal year 2001.
  2. Approval rates calculated on basis of interview decisions, excluding closed or withdrawn cases.
  3. Not including appeals or ELR cases.
  4. Onshore applications, primary stage.
  5. Not including appeals.
  6. UNHCR figures.
  7. Figures stated in the Keynote are for the beginnng of 2002.

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