CanadaCanada's asylum system unable to respond to spikes in claims, AG finds
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OTTAWA — Canada's refugee system is plagued with a backlog of asylum claims that is worse now than it has ever been, caused in part by systemic inefficiencies, according to findings from acting auditor general Sylvain Ricard.
As part of five audits of government activities released today, Ricard's office looked at how quickly and efficiently the three government agencies involved in reviewing and processing refugee claims are doing their work.
The audit found Canada's refugee system is not able to respond quickly to surges in asylum claims — which has led to a two-year backlog of claims.
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"We found that Canada’s refugee system is unable to process claims within the two-month target set by the government. In fact, backlogs and wait times are worse now than when the system was last reformed in 2012, to address these very same issues," the audit report says.
An influx of asylum-seekers to Canada that began in early 2017, including over 42,000 "irregular" migrants who have entered Canada through non-official border checkpoints, has outstripped the government's ability to process them in a timely way.
With the current backlog of over 75,000 claims, asylum-seekers could wait up to five years to learn whether they can remain in Canada if improvements are not made.
"Fairness and speed are key principles of Canada's refugee determination system," Ricard says in the report. "The system must be able to respond quickly to changes in the volume of asylum claims to avoid backlogs and delays in refugee protection decisions."
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The auditor general points to several key factors that have led to the current backlogs, including funding levels for the three agencies involved in processing claims: the Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Immigration Department.
None of the three organizations could access additional resources quickly enough to respond promptly to increases in claim volumes, the auditor general found.
The number of claims filed each year fluctuates, yet the system receives a fixed amount of funding to process them. That's why when there is a spike in the number of claims — as has happened over the last two years — volumes of unresolved cases grow and wait times increase.
Ricard's office also identified a number of internal problems in the way the three government agencies process claims that have added unnecessary delays.
The CBSA, the Immigration and Refugee Board and the Immigration Department all use different information systems to collect and share information. These systems don't work well together.
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Also, many hearings for refugee claimants are postponed, which adds months of delays to each file. Most of these postponements were caused not by the asylum seekers, but by IRB members who were unavailable for hearings.
Duplicated work and a heavy reliance on paper files have also contributed to delays in claims processing.
The auditor made five recommendations for improvements, all of which have been accepted by the government.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has said the government is responding to increased pressures within Canada's asylum system with investments contained in this year's federal budget that promise $208 million in new money for the IRB to tackle refugee claims. This money is partly to be used to hire 130 new staff, including 85 new decision-makers.
The money is aimed at getting IRB to the point where it can process 50,000 claims per year.
The Immigration Department projects wait-times for asylum-seekers awaiting refugee hearings will be cut almost in half, from the current two years to 13 months.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press
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