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New visa rule could hurt genuine refugee seekers – Canadian advocates

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Canada’s recent imposition of visas on St Vincent and four other nations could hurt legitimate asylum seekers, refugee advocates in Canada have said, according to a newspaper there.{{more}}

The publication — Embassy — in an article on Wednesday, cited refugee advocates as saying the decision could mean less access for legitimate refugees to seek asylum.

“I’m concerned about the legitimate claimants who legitimately and genuinely need protection that are going to have a hard time obtaining it because of changes of the visa requirement,” Embassy quoted Toronto immigration lawyer Marc Herman as saying.

“They’ll start resorting to fraudulent documents to enter Canada if they’re desperate”, Herman, who “works with a lot of claimants from the West Indies”, further said, Embassy reported.

“The people, it doesn’t matter if they have a genuine case or no, they are not coming. Canada is not an option any longer,” Embassy quoted Francisco Rico-Martinez, co-director of the FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto as saying.

“And that doesn’t solve the problem [why] they are at risk back home,” added Rico-Martinez, who Embassy said supports asylum claimants through housing and legal help, among other services.

Ottawa on September 11 announced that holders of Vincentian and St Lucian passports, in addition to citizens of Botswana, Namibia, and Swaziland — three southern African nations — need visas to enter Canada.

The Stephen Harper government said that in the case of the Caribbean nations, “unreliable travel documents” saw criminals deported from Canada returning with different names and passports.

It further said Vincentians and St Lucians had submitted “an unacceptably high number of asylum claims” to Canada.

Embassy said St Vincent, “despite its tiny size, crept in 2005 into the top 10 countries whose citizens file inland asylum claims in Canada.

“It has stayed there almost every year since, generating more asylum claims than countries with much bigger populations, such as India and Pakistan.”

Embassy quoted Herman as saying Immigration and Refugee Board statistics show women file consistently more applications than men.

Women allege domestic abuse and incest, while men’s claims are “rooted in victim-of-crime scenarios”.

Both men and women also claim persecution because of their sexual orientation, Embassy quoted Herman as saying.

But Herman told the publication that among the legitimate asylum seekers are some who allege credible scenarios, but are “nothing more than country shoppers who are coming here to live a better life, not so much for purposes of security, but rather economics”.

Embassy cited The Toronto Star article last November, in which Steve Phillips, St Vincent’s consul general in Canada, said crooked immigration consultants have tricked Vincentians into making refugee claims.

People claiming domestic violence are really fleeing financial stress, Phillips is reported to have told The Toronto Star.

“There are no political, religious, or social conditions in St Vincent that justify any Vincentian applying for refugee status,” he told the publication.

But Rico-Martinez told Embassy that in his experience, organizations in countries like St Vincent and St Lucia that work with abused women have sometimes not even documented when women use their services because the situation is so common.

People like Herman and Rico-Martinez are worried about what the visa requirement will mean for legitimate refugees, Embassy reported, adding that the imposition of visas on a country usually results in fewer asylum claims from it.

“In order to get a visa, immigration officers have to be satisfied the claimant will go home after their Canadian stay,” Embassy noted.

The publication said St Vincent has seen between 21 and 48 per cent of claims accepted in the last 11 years, while St Lucia has seen an acceptance rate of between 5 and 51 per cent. (kentonchance@searchlight.com)

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