OTTAWA — Refugee lawyers who help asylum seekers who have crossed into Canada irregularly are calling on government to end its co-operation with the U.S. government and suspend the safe third country agreement.
Maureen Silcoff, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, says her organization and other civil society groups were dismayed to hear Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen talk about wanting to work collaboratively with the U.S. government on dealing with the influx of illegal border crossers arriving in Canada from the U.S.
She pointed to recent revelations about how the U.S. has been dealing with some of its illegal border crossers — steps that sometimes include separating children from parents who are detained in custody.
“The prevalence of detention has risen and the conditions of detention are poor and now we see something really quite horrific, which is the tearing away of children from their mothers when they arrive as a deterrent effect,” Silcoff said.
Human Rights Watch has reported that more than 600 children, including infants and toddlers, have been separated from their parents while trying to cross the border illegally into the United States. Their parents were arrested and sent to detention centres.
Hussen travelled to Washington on Monday to meet Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for high-level talks about the continuing surge in asylum seekers.
Following the meeting, the two reaffirmed a commitment to work together on border security issues related to asylum seekers. Hussen has said he hopes to continue to co-operate with the U.S. to strengthen and modernize the safe third country agreement — a treaty between the two governments to jointly manage the flow of refugee claimants.
But Silcoff, who has clients that have made perilous journeys to Canada seeking refugee protection, says she believes this is the opposite of what Canada should be doing.
Her association wants Canada to distance itself from President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration policies and suspend the safe third country agreement.
“To me, it just doesn’t make sense at this point in terms of the U.S. dealing with asylum seekers to try and reach any kind of agreed position, because I think Canada is so far away from what we see going on in the United States vis-a-vis the treatment of asylum seekers in terms of the laws, in terms of the policies and in terms of the rhetoric,” Silcoff said.
But Hussen says the safe third country agreement is “an important tool used by Canada and the U.S. to co-operate on the orderly handling of refugee claims.”
“It is a vital component of our well-managed immigration system,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
Canada’s Immigration department has expert analysis that says the U.S. asylum system continues to provide access to due process for asylum claimants in accordance with international law, he added.
“We continue to carefully monitor asylum system changes in the United States that could impact its designation as a safe third country.”