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Sustained flow of asylum claims ends visa-free travel to Canada

Sustained flow of asylum claims ends visa-free travel to Canada


The visa exemption from Vincentian travellers to Canada was removed because of the sustained flow of asylum claimants to that North American country and the high rate of immigration violations,{{more}} a diplomatic note issued by the High Commission of Canada to this country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The note, issued on Wednesday, did not mention “unreliable travel documents”, which is given as “a key reason”, in a release posted on a Canadian government website.

The announcement from Ottawa that the privilege Vincentians had enjoyed had been revoked, was made in the press release on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website about 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Approximately four hours earlier, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves had informed the nation of the development, during a press briefing.

He said the High Commissioner of Canada to Barbados Ruth Archibald, had alerted him to the decision on Monday.

The revocation took effect from 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday and also applied to citizens of St Lucia, Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland.

“A key reason why the government has imposed visa requirements on St Lucia and St Vincent is unreliable travel documents,” the website said. “In particular, criminals from these countries can legally change their names and acquire new passports. In some instances, people who were removed from Canada as security risks later returned using different passports.”

It further said there has also been “an unacceptably high number of asylum claims from St Lucia and St Vincent, with about one and a half percent and three percent of the population of these countries making asylum claims in Canada over the past five years.”

“These changes are necessary because all the countries concerned have an immigration violation rate of over thirty percent, well above the level we deem acceptable for countries benefiting from a visa exemption,” said Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said on Tuesday.

Data from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada show that between January 2001 and June 2012, 5,248 persons from St Vincent and the Grenadines applied for refugee status in Canada, with as many as 711 applying in one year, as was the case in 2010.

“Now since I’ve come to office in 2001, I have been asking people … saying you have to be careful with these refugee claims. We have a good thing where you can just buy your ticket and go to Canada,” Gonsalves said during a press briefing on Tuesday.

“I had repeatedly stated this thing. We have our documentation in order, we have our good passport and all the rest of it, but this refugee situation has caused the problem. The long and short of the story,” he said.

Gonsalves, however, strongly objects to “unreliable travel documents” being given as “a key reason” for the revocation of the visa-exempt status of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“Our passport, which we brought into effect in 2005, the machine readable passport, is done by a very reputable company, out of Canada, that is Canadian Bank Note … They in fact do Canada’s passport.

“We have been on a programme of streamlining all the procedures in relation to documents to get a passport.

“Among those, we have tightened up on the issue of name change, and if you change your name, you can’t get a new passport in your new name, you will get it the name what you have, with an endorsement with the new name in the same passport,” the prime minister told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday.

“We have also tightened up the regulations in relation to the birth certificates, and the safety of birth certificates themselves,” he said.

Gonsalves also said that the United Kingdom border control agency had been reviewing border controls throughout the region and the documentation from various countries, and never put SVG on any notice, as they put some other Caribbean countries.

“This does not mean, no matter how good a system you have, one or two persons will try to beat it and beat it successfully by using fraud, he said.

He further said if there is any individual whom Canada knows of in relation to fraud with the Vincentian passport or any travel documents, they should tell the government, so that they could prosecute.

He said the local system is distinct from systems in other countries where, when a person has a name change, a new passport is issued.

The prime minister said High Commissioner Archibald acknowledged in their conversation on Monday that she had never raised any issue relating to SVG travel documents, because the system had never been questioned by Canada in that regard.

“The issue they have always raised with us is what they put in the diplomatic note, the question of asylum applications and immigration violations in Canada,” he said.

He said when he and the High Commissioner spoke on Monday and she mentioned the travel documents issue, he said, “That’s not St Vincent,” a comment with which he said she agreed.

“I said when you all issue any statement, don’t lump us with anybody else about unreliable travel documents.

“She sent that information up to the authorities in Canada, but apparently, it didn’t reach the high level when they issued that statement, where they lump everybody together, about unreliable travel documents,” he said.

The news release on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website was updated on Wednesday to include, among other things, the issue of the “unacceptably high number of asylum claims” from this country and St Lucia. It, however, still contained the reference to “unreliable travel documents” in relation to SVG.