New Canada – U.S. Agreement Will Only Assist Afghan Refugees Who Qualify - New Canadian Media
Canada and U.S. flags in Sarnia, Ontario border. "Flags" by joeldinda is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

New Canada – U.S. Agreement Will Only Assist Afghan Refugees Who Qualify

Canada and the U.S. have a history of cooperation on immigration and asylum. But the results have not always been favourable for those seeking refuge, as with the Safe Third Countries Agreement. NCM reporter Zahra Mahdi reports on the new agreement that will see Canada bring in 5,000 more refugees, but only if they meet certain criteria.

Canada and the United States have struck an agreement to allow U.S.-assisted Afghan evacuees currently living in a third country to enter Canada if they meet certain asylum requirements, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has announced.

Canada will welcome up to 5,000 refugees whose evacuations were facilitated by the U.S. The agreement is part of Canada’s commitment to welcome 20,000 Afghan refugees in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of that country.

According to IRCC’s announcement,  this collaboration will help reduce current pressures in the global resettlement system, facilitating and accelerating wider international efforts to support Afghan refugees and to welcome them to Canada. 

Refugees must meet all eligibility and admissibility requirements, including entering Canada from countries where they have been temporarily located after fleeing Afghanistan.

The agreement comes amidst growing demands to make the plight of Afghan citizens an issue in the federal election campaign following the end of Canada’s evacuation mission.

Many have criticized the federal government for its evacuation operation in Afghanistan starting too late, leaving many vulnerable Afghans behind.

Waiting for a Visa

The announcement is welcome news to Farzana, who’s asked to be only identified by her first name because she fears she could be in danger. She is a 21-year-old Afghan national who flew out of Afghanistan on U.S. flights. 

“My mother worked for a military family in Afghanistan. She asked them to take me out of Afghanistan with them. I flew to Qatar and then to Germany,” she told New Canadian Media

Farzana, who was studying Pharmacology in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over, explained her situation to the IRCC via email, hoping to receive refuge in Canada. She has not heard from the government as of the time of writing.  

Although Canada has announced this agreement which could potentially help people like Farzana, she has no hope of receiving a response because of what she describes as a deluge of emails from Afghan nationals in similar situations to IRCC. 

Farzana told NCM that upon arriving in Germany, the people who had helped her get out of Afghanistan could no longer accompany her.

As of time of writing,  Farzana is on her own in Germany, waiting for a visa from the U.S. or Canada.

“I want to be reunited with my parents and two younger sisters. I don’t want my mother to work in people’s houses anymore,” she said.

Afghan citizens seeking a ride out of Afghanistan the day before the terrorist attack on the Kabul airport. Photo by Taqi Parhizgar, an Afghan living in Kabul.

Canada U.S. Cooperation

Canada and the U.S. have a long record of cooperation in border and immigration affairs.

The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), for example, requires refugee claimants to seek refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in unless they qualify for an exception. 

According to the federal government, the Agreement helps both countries better manage access to the refugee system in each country for people crossing the Canada–U.S. land border. 

But many migrant rights advocates have come out against it, arguing it gives Canadian and American governments too much control over the outcome of refugee applications, thus increasing the rate of denials and deportations. 

Generally, not all asylum seekers succeed in obtaining refugee status in the first country they enter — for various reasons including errors or unfairness that occur in a country’s assessment of the asylum claimant. As a result, they would pass through a few countries and make a claim in each of them. 

The Canadian and American governments have argued that is not an efficient way to receive and evaluate claims since both countries have very similar legal systems. The STCA therefore limits asylum seekers to making one claim in the first safe country in which they arrive. 

As a result, most people who come to Canada via the U.S. are prevented from claiming asylum in this country. 

There are some exceptions to this which includes unaccompanied minors, having family members like a spouse or parent who’s already a citizen or permanent resident, having a valid work or study permit, and  public interest reasons such as facing the possibility of a death sentence in the U.S.

It should be noted that in July 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada found the STCA unconstitutional, following a claim by the Canadian Council for Refugees, noting that “asylum seekers whom Canada turns away because of the STCA are automatically imprisoned by U.S. authorities and treated in ways that cause both physical and psychological suffering,” according the Library of Parliament’s website

“The court decided that the STCA would cease to have effect in January 2021. However, this deadline was extended by the Federal Court of Appeal, pending an appeal by the federal government.”

The Agreement between Canada and the U.S. for the Sharing of Visa and Immigration Information also lays out mutual obligations for the sharing of relevant biographic and biometric-based information through automated processes to assist in the effective administration and enforcement of each country’s respective immigration laws.

Although Canada has promised to resettle some 20,000 Afghan refugees, it has transported or facilitated the transport of 3,700 so far, including Canadian citizens, their family members, citizens of allied countries, people with a lasting connection to Canada, and Afghan nationals at risk accepted for resettlement in Canada or by its allies.

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With a background in journalism and migration studies, Zahra Mahdi worked as a freelance correspondent covering immigration and refugee policies from May 2021 to April 2022. Her bylines also appeared in the Toronto Star. She is a Master’s student in Migration and Diaspora Studies at Carleton University and holds an undergraduate degree in journalism.

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