UNHCR Expresses Deep Concern over Canada's continued policy of Direct Backs

    OTTAWA, Oct. 10 /CNW Telbec/ - The UN Refugee Agency is deeply concerned
about the situation of 5 refugee claimants who were returned to the United
States on Thanksgiving Monday (8 Oct.) without the chance of having their
claims assessed under the U.S-Canada Safe Third Country Agreement. Two of the
refugee claimants were subsequently detained by United States border
    UNHCR has repeatedly expressed its concerns about the Canadian Border
Services Agency (CBSA) continued practice of returning refugee claimants back
to the United States outside the framework of the Safe Third Country
Agreement. Most recently, this policy of "direct back" was raised again last
week by senior UNHCR officials in meetings with the Canadian Delegation to
UNHCR's annual Executive Committee meeting.
    UNHCR's concerns stems from the fact that Canada's "direct back" policy
is not only at variance with the purpose of the Canada-United States Safe
Third Country Agreement which was to specifically ensure responsibility
sharing for examining asylum requests with safeguards in place, but the
practice may lead to breaches of core Canadian obligations under international
refugee law. By unilaterally returning refugee claimants to a country of
transit, in this case the United States, Canada is potentially subjecting
refugee claimants to risks of forced return (refoulement) from there to their
country of origin.
    UNHCR is particularly troubled that despite a written commitment by CBSA
to cease the "direct back" practice as a tool of purely administrative
convenience, refugee claimants continue to be turned back to the United States
without regard for their welfare. This practice is being conducted outside of
any refugee protection framework between Canada and the United States and
without any procedural safeguards under Canadian law.
    In a letter addressed to CBSA dated 1 May 2007, the UNHCR Representative
in Canada, Jahanshah Assadi urged that Canada abandon its policy of direct
back in its entirety, citing that "even in unlikely situations where
substantial numbers of asylum seekers may appear at Canadian borders and seek
admission, Canada's resources, experience and capacity are such that, we
believe their needs can be addressed."
    UNHCR urges CBSA to take the necessary steps to rectify the situation in
keeping with Canada's commendable humanitarian traditions and its exemplary
record as a country of asylum.


    UNHCR works in 117 countries to provide protection and assistance to an
estimated 21 million refugees, and other displaced and needy persons. The UN
refugee agency, which has won two Nobel Peace Prizes, was established by the
UN General Assembly in 1950 and has helped more than 50 million people over
the past five decades.

For further information:

For further information: Nanda Na Champassak, (613) 232 0909 ext. 236,

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United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

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