STEWART: between a rock and a hard place

There is an expression to show a person, or a country is between a rock and a hard place and almost everyone knows what that means. Canada was a party to the 1951 the United Nations Refugee Convention better known as UNHCR that sets out the obligations towards refugees and asylum-seekers. 

They created the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1950, during the aftermath of the Second World War, to help millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes. They were given three years to complete their work and then disband but that did not happen. 

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Refugees shall not be returned to a country where they would be at risk of persecution. So, all things being equal we are stuck between a rock and a hard place for refugees. They arrive and we are stuck with them. We can’t force them to return to their own country and in almost all cases their country doesn’t want them back.

The federal government spends an average of about $14,000 for each asylum seeker crossing into Canada outside of legal border points. The federal government set aside an extra $173 million over two years in this year’s budget to cover the additional costs related to asylum seekers crossing into Canada outside of legal border points. The $173 million was based on an annual influx of 5,000 to 8,000 individuals, rather than the actual number of 23,000 per year.

Therefore, the cost per asylum seeker varies from about $10,000 for a simple case — where the claim is accepted — to about $34,000 for a more complex case ending in the claimant exhausting all appeals and being deported. Between 2017 through the next fiscal year this our Prime Minister is choosing to spend $1.1 billion on essentially what amounts to the abuse of our asylum system.

Toronto is asking for $64.5 million to reimburse its costs and ongoing, stable funding of $43 million a year starting in 2019. “The city can’t do this alone. The federal government has offered initial help, but we need the continued help of our federal and provincial partners to ensure that Toronto remains a safe, welcoming and accessible place for all,” said Mayor John Tory in a statement. Lisa MacLeod, Ontario minister of children, community and social services, sent a letter to her federal counterpart last week to request $200 million to go towards covering of asylum seekers. And, this just one city with many more in the same situation.

The 1951 Convention contains several rights and highlights the obligations of refugees towards their host country. The cornerstone refoulement contained in Article 33. According to this principle, a of the 1951 Convention is the principle of non- refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom. This protection may not be claimed by refugees who are reasonably regarded as a danger to the security of the country, or having been convicted of a serious crime, are considered a danger to the community.

Other rights in the 1951 Convention include:  The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions (Article 32);  The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State (Article 31);  The right to work (Articles 17 to 19);  The right to housing (Article 21); • The right to education (Article 22);  The right to public relief and assistance (Article 23);  The right to freedom of religion (Article 4);  The right to access the courts (Article 16);  The right to freedom of movement within the territory (Article 26); and  The right to be issued identity and travel documents (Articles 27 and 28).

So, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place for refugees both legitimate and the illegal ones and that is how I see it.

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