Churches challenge Canada-US refugee agreement
A Canadian church agency has joined forces with two other groups in a legal challenge to a Canada-United States agreement they say endangers refugees seeking asylum in North America, writes Ferdy Baglo for Ecumenical News International.
The Canadian Council of Churches (CCC), together with Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees, has launched a challenge in Canada's Federal Court to the "Safe Third Country Agreement", one year after it came into effect in December 2004.
The agreement states that both Canada and the United States are safe countries and that asylum seekers who pass through either country are prohibited from entering the other country in order to make a refugee claim.
"We have in place a law that sends people back to claim in the US when those people may in fact not be protected and end up being sent back home to face persecution," said Janet Dench, the executive director of the refugee council.
The three Canadian organizations are asking the court to overturn the designation of the United States as a safe country. They argue the United States does not respect its obligations under the Convention Against Torture and the Refugee Convention.
The groups also argue that by returning refugee claimants to the US for determination, Canada is violating its international obligations towards refugees, as well as the refugees' rights under the Canadian constitution.
Karen Hamilton, general secretary of the CCC, told Ecumenical News International that the council was backing the challenge because Christian churches have a long history of support for refugees.
"That goes back to our biblical and theological mandate to care for the widow, the orphan, the sojourner - those who are vulnerable in our society," she said.
Writing in the Toronto Star newspaper, Amnesty International's refugee coordinator, Gloria Nafziger, highlighted the situation of Colombian asylum seekers.
"Colombians are not able to reach Canada and are forced [under the agreement] to apply for protection in the United States, where they are much more likely to be rejected," she wrote.
Nafziger also asserted that new security provisions in the United States have resulted in a continuing erosion of refugee rights.
However, Greg Scott from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, a government agency, said the US-Canadian agreement seemed to have been a "success".
With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.
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