Post-Olympics refugee claims
22 refugee claims made after Vancouver Olympics
Last Updated: Saturday, April 10, 2010 | 11:18 AM PT Comments144Recommend66
The Canadian Press
The Olympics provided a way for some people wanting to claim refugee status to enter Canada. (CBC)
Twenty-two people who came to Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics have made refugee claims in Canada, seven of them members of the “Olympic family.”
The figures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada show the claimants came from nine different countries: Ghana, Hungary, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Nepal and Japan.
For privacy concerns, Johanne Nadeau with Citizenship and Immigration couldn’t say if any of the claimants were athletes, but did say that seven of them were from organizations directly linked to the Games.
The Olympic family includes everyone from sponsors and athletes to the entourage of support staff that travels with each country’s Olympic team.
Nadeau said compared to other events, 22 claims is small.
“For the  Victoria Commonwealth Games, which obviously isn’t as large a scale as the Olympics, we had a total of 730 claims,” she said.
Claimants could be athletes
Under the Olympic Charter, people designated as Olympic family don’t have to obtain the usual visa to travel to Canada and are admitted under a special application process.
Audrey Macklin, a professor who teaches immigration and refugee law at the University of Toronto, said she wouldn’t be surprised if some of the claimants were athletes.
“It has been the case that elite athletes can be kept under very tight controls and Canada has in the past, for example, accepted elite athletes as refugees from other countries.”
During the 1994 Commonwealth Games, 13 of the claimants were athletes, including Daniel Igali, who went on to win Olympic gold for Canada at the Sydney Games in 2000.
During the Francophone Games in Ottawa-Hull in 2001, more than 100 participants from 17 countries made refugee claims.
Lawyer Andrew Wlodyka, a former member of the Immigration and Refugee board, said athletes who ask for refugee status know it could be a career-ending decision.
“Usually the athletes are at the top of the pecking order in terms of state support, so why would you want to throw that out the window?”
Wlodyka said Canada has accepted claims from most of the nine countries involved, except Japan, where there’s little basis for a refugee claim.
He said the other reason for lower claims could be better screening from home countries.
“You’re not going to be sending people abroad — which is quite a perk — who are opposed to the regime,” he said. “They may have filtered out some of the people that were likely to make a claim.”
The 22 claimants is a minuscule number compared to the average of 25,000 refugee claims a year, said Catherine Dauvergne, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Migration Law at the University of British Columbia.
She said the logical conclusion to the lower number is that the majority of people privileged enough to participate in the Winter Games simply aren’t in need of protection in their own country.
“The high-profile athletes spate of claims really tended to be associated with Cold War politics,” she said. “And the Cold War is over.”