The number of refugees requesting asylum status in Canada is straining the system, according to a recent letter from Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen.
“Without changes to improve efficiency and productivity of the asylum process, wait times and backlogs will only continue to grow,” the letter, addressed to the Canadian Bar Association, reads. “This situation is not sustainable, nor is it fair to the people who need Canada’s protection.”
While Hussen and politicians across the spectrum agree that the existing system needs to be reformed as it is unable to accommodate the current volume of asylum claims, there is vast disagreement on the best way to achieve this reform.
In 2017, Canada saw a dramatic increase in asylum seekers entering the country between official border crossings, particularly in rural Quebec. According to data released by the Canadian government, in 2017 over 50,000 asylum seekers were processed, which includes people who entered the country both officially and unofficially. So far, in 2018, over 12,000 asylum seekers have crossed into Canada.
Since asylum seekers who try to enter Canada at legal border crossings can be refused entry due to a loophole in the Canada–United States Safe Third Country Agreement, many are opting to cross into the country illegally via unofficial routes along unwatched areas of the border, as they are unable to be turned away once they cross into Canada. These illegal refugees are required by law to be provided with shelter, food and healthcare services. As more and more asylum seekers make use of the loophole in the agreement, an increasing strain is being placed on the government agencies caring for these people.
As for refugees seeking asylum via legal means, the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) data shows that over 55,000 refugee claims are still pending as of June 30. Canada currently has over sixty government programs overseeing legal immigration, according to Toronto immigration lawyer. Yet, there have nevertheless been recommendations to create a new refugee protection agency that would report directly to the immigration minister. A second proposal is to maintain the existing structure of the asylum system, but to add a new oversight body. These recommendations have come under attack as opponents claim that rather than solve the asylum crisis, they will only add another layer of bureaucracy to an already tedious process.