Canadians should welcome the announcement that the federal government is proposing to introduce tougher laws to combat human smuggling.
Because of our wide open asylum system, Canada has become the country of choice for human smuggling. Anyone from any country who arrives can claim persecution and ask for refugee status. It is important to understand that these asylum seekers are not refugees — they are individuals who simply claim to be persecuted in their own country. They are then allowed entry and are permitted to work or to receive welfare, free housing, and medical and dental care while waiting to appear before the Immigration and Refugee Board to decide if they are genuine refugees in need of protection.
For the last 25 years, we have been paying a high price for our refusal to reform our dysfunctional asylum system. It is a system that is enormously expensive — some estimate it costs the taxpayer $2 billion to $3 billion a year for welfare, housing, medical care, legal fees and other services provided the 30,000 to 40,000 asylum seekers arriving each year. This is an outrageous expenditure considering 60 per cent of the claimants are found to be bogus.
These high costs also inhibit our capacity to support the efforts of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to care for the 43.3 million real refugees in camps around the world. The UNHCR’s estimated budget for 2010-2011 is $2.1 billion –less than what we spend on our annual intake of asylum seekers. Canada contributes only about $40 million to $45 million annually to the UNHCR.
The IRB has a backlog of close to 60,000 asylum seekers, and consequently a new arrival waits two to three years for a hearing. If the case is refused a series of lengthy reviews and appeals follow and the result is that they remain here for years. Few are ever removed. They end up being granted immigrant status. Their immigrant status then entitles them in turn to sponsor their family members. The price paid to the smugglers is well worth it.
Many of the smuggled asylum seekers already have relatives in Canada. They don’t want to wait their turn in line or bother to go through the medical, criminal and security checks applicable to those waiting in the backlog. Many of them — uncles, aunts, nephew, and nieces — are not eligible to be sponsored so they pay to be smuggled into Canada. This is why smuggling has become big business. The smugglers can give an iron-clad guarantee to the person being smuggled that once on Canadian soil there is little chance of being removed even if their refugee claim is refused.
We are hearing the outcries from members of the powerful refugee lobby that the new legislation is a blow to Canada’s humanitarian tradition. This is nonsense. The refugee lobby has played a dominant role in shaping refugee policy and as a result the system has been sadly degraded. Unfortunately, our politicians seem only to listen to this self-serving group.
The lobby consists of immigration lawyers, immigration consultants, the Canadian Council of Refugees, the Canadian Council of Churches, Amnesty International and a host of advocacy groups and NGOs — many of these receive millions of dollars of taxpayer money each year to help asylum seekers. The lobby has resisted every attempt to reform the system.
Even the modest reforms recently introduced by Jason Kenney were the victim of the lobby’s pressure on opposition parties in Parliament to water-down the reforms and make them less effective. Now they are resisting the government’s attempt to bring an end to human smuggling. They do so because a wide open asylum system either gives them financial reward or satisfies a belief they are helping refugees.
The new legislation might not result in major smugglers being apprehended since most of them reside in foreign countries and are too smart to get caught. However, the penalties against those who pay the smugglers will certainly work. The possibility of detention until the IRB decision is made is a definite deterrent, as is preventing them from permanent residence for five years even if they are found to be genuine refugees. Terminating refugee status for those who return to their country of origin makes good sense. But it is the prevention against sponsorship of family members for five years that will really stop the smuggling. These measures will work.
Those who will oppose them play into the hands of the refugee lobby and perpetuate the myth of the asylum seeker as poor refugee in need of compassion and help. They will be aiding and abetting human smuggling.