TORONTO: Former refugees worried they could be deported after extended visits to their homelands
More than 10 years after he was granted refugee status and became a permanent resident, Toronto’s Milan Kumar Karki was told in January that he has returned for extended stays in Nepal numerous times and “no longer required Canada’s surrogate protection.” He may now lose his permanent residency and be deported.
Ottawa has slowly — and quietly — stepped up efforts to strip permanent resident status from former refugees who were granted asylum in Canada and later returned to the country where they once faced persecution.
Wielding new powers that came in with changes to immigration law in 2012, the federal government is now actively pursuing reopening asylum files under what’s known as a “cessation application” and forcing refugees whose circumstances have changed to leave Canada.
The number of people who had their protection “ceased” in 2014 was almost five times the number in 2012 — rising from 24 to 116 — according to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), which is mandated to decide if the individuals are still refugees or not.
An internal document obtained by the Canadian Council for Refugees under an access to information request showed the Conservative government has set an annual target of 875 applications to strip refugee status.
Officials dispute that there’s a target.
Advocates say the government initiative has created anxiety and fear among former refugees, who may sometimes travel back to their homeland to visit ailing relatives or visit for longer periods after conditions in the country improve.
The law does not quantify how often and long a refugee might visit and stay in their homeland to constitute what, in government parlance, is called “re-availment.” But Ottawa says individuals are deemed to have “re-availed” themselves to the country they fled if they apply for and obtain a national passport or a renewed passport voluntarily.
“Even if you are a permanent resident, you are no longer secure and can still lose your status any time. Everyone just wonders what is going to happen next. Anyone can be swept off in the government’s frenzy to take people’s status away,” said Janet Dench, executive director of the refugee council.
“Canada used to be proud of being an immigrant-welcoming nation. Now, it has become a country proud of stopping people from coming, delaying their citizenship, and taking away their status.”
Although cessation applications within the asylum system aren’t new, they were relatively rare before 2012. Under the old rules, loss of permanent resident status wasn’t automatic when refugees “re-availed” themselves. So few such actions were initiated.
The law already had provisions allowing authorities to “vacate” a refugee’s protected status and revoke permanent residency if the person was criminally convicted or found to have lied in their asylum claim.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said cessation and vacation cases were identified as a key priority in 2013, in order to improve the “integrity” of the refugee system.