Quality of refugee decisions in question
Published On Tue
Jun 21 2011
Canadian visa officers do not always refer to the law when accepting or rejecting refugees awaiting resettlement to Canada, a federal report says. In fact, more than a third of cases were refused simply because the visa officer did not believe the refugee’s story. No analysis appeared to be made using set criteria that determines refugee status, says the internal report
prepared by Citizenship and Immigration Canada staff.
“The record did not always clearly indicate how an application either met or
failed to meet the regulatory criteria,” said the 94-page study. Refugee advocates have complained about poor decision-making by visa officers overseas and lack of accountability in the determination process. In May, they won a court case overturning decisions made by one visa officer at the Cairo mission rejecting 40 Eritrean refugees.
“We have always said that the problems in Cairo are not particular to that visa office. This report confirms that,” said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.
The federal court ruling in the Eritreans’ cases and this internal report underline the need for a fairer system, she said. However, an immigration department spokesperson said the report’s findings simply highlight the complexity of the decision-making process of the
“The report’s findings were positive on a significant number of key quality-of-decision-making indicators,” Kelli Fraser wrote in an email. “These include ensuring applicants are provided an opportunity to tell their stories in their own words, are sensitive to cultural communication barriers and do not rely on demeanour in assessing an applicant’s credibility.”
In 2010, Canada granted permanent resident status to 24,693 refugees, including 4,833 pledged by church groups and community organizations. The approval rate for privately sponsored refugees is about 50 per cent. The 94-page undated government report — made available in May after an Access to Information request by the refugee council — reviewed some 210 files of private sponsorship decisions made in 2007 at missions in the Africa-Middle East region.
Overall 76, or 36 per cent, of the cases were rejected on credibility grounds, mostly due to implausibility that “comes down to whether or not the refugee’s story makes sense to the visa officer.” It is tough to assess if one is credible, especially when dealing with refugees suffering past trauma and distrusting officials, said the report.
Communication is further hindered by culture, language or gender barriers, it added.
In rejecting a refugee application, the report found, visa officers cited “implausibility” in half of the cases, followed by inconsistency with case record (46%), inconsistency during interview (38%) and lack of detail (32%). The report recommended investment in training and guidance to staff in decision-making, proper supervisory reviews of decisions and development of templates to help visa officers in their assessment and decision documentation.
“Action has already been taken to implement most of the recommendations. Several of the items, including improvements to officer training, forms and kits, have already been completed,” said Fraser, adding the report’s release was delayed due to the federal election.