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In light of new US refugee policy, Canada must Immediately Suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement

    July 17, 2019

    Amnesty International is calling afresh on the Government of Canada to immediately suspend the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), in light of a new US Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security rule that will bar people from claiming refugee protection in the US, if they cross the southern land border and fail to apply for protection in a transit country. The new rule makes it unambiguously clear that the US refugee protection system in no way adequately guarantees the rights of those seeking to make claims in that country.

    Under the STCA, refugees who present themselves at a Canada-US border post seeking to make a refugee claim in Canada are, with limited exceptions, denied access to the Canadian refugee system and immediately returned to the United States. It does not apply to individuals who cross irregularly into Canada, other than at a border post, and subsequently make a refugee claim inside Canada. Therefore, a person who claims refugee protection at a Canada-US border post would be sent back to the US to make their claim, even if the new US rule means that they would be ineligible for protection there.

    “With the implementation of this policy, there is no single basis upon which the STCA can, in any way, be defended,” said Justin Mohammed, Amnesty International Canada’s Human Rights Law and Policy Campaigner. “The US is choosing to implement a measure that constitutes an automatic bar to refugee protection for a wide-sweeping category of claimants. The operation of the STCA would prevent those very same claimants from obtaining protection in Canada and therefore must be suspended, or otherwise risk complicity in US violations of international refugee and human rights law.”

    The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has declared that the new rule “excessively curtails the right to apply for asylum, jeopardizes the right to protection from refoulement, significantly raises the burden of proof on asylum seekers beyond the international legal standard, sharply curtails basic rights and freedoms of those who manage to meet it, and is not in line with international obligations.”

    Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, said the following: “the Canadian Government has long relied on the UNHCR’s monitoring and assessment of the US refugee protection system to defend the STCA. Now the UNHCR itself has stated, in unequivocal terms, that this latest measure is contrary to the US’ international legal obligations. That includes, but is not limited to, the right to protection against refoulement to torture. Thus, it is incumbent on Canada to act accordingly and suspend the STCA without delay. It would be unconscionable to fail take that step given this latest development.”

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