PE Ledger

Covid Policy of Turning Back Asylum-Seekers Between Border Crossings Comes to an End in Canada

Between March 2020 through mid-October, Canada returned at least 544 would-be refugees to the United States.


According to an updated policy statement posted on Sunday, Canada is changing its pandemic-era policy of turning back asylum-seekers attempting to enter the country between ports of entry.

Between March 2020 through mid-October, Canada returned at least 544 would-be refugees to the United States. The government did not immediately respond to concerns about why the provision was being phased out now and what, if any, quarantine regulations would apply to unvaccinated asylum applicants.

The action was highly needed by Canada due to health concerns during the coronavirus outbreak. However, refugee advocates maintained that applying for asylum should not be considered “discretionary travel,” citing class exemptions granted to professional athletes and others during the pandemic.

“It’s reassuring to see the refugee measures align more closely with our international obligations, and I believe it’s been clear all along that public health and refugee protection can coexist,” said Maureen Silcoff, which sued the government over the policy.

It didn’t make sense, according to Silcoff, to allow tourists through while rejecting people seeking safety, as Canada has begun to do.

According to refugee lawyers working on their cases, an unknown number of asylum seekers who were turned back were detained indefinitely in the United States, and at least two were deported.

Since the policy’s inception, exemptions have been available, and in August, Canada began allowing more turned-back asylum-seekers to return and submit refugee claims as part of a “managed approach to reopening the border.”

However, advocates say that this alternative is only available to individuals who are aware of it or who have legal counsel versed with Canada’s shifting system. Last month, the government defended the program in court.

Asylum seekers trying to cross at official ports of entry are turned back under a Safe 3rd Country Agreement between the United States and Canada. The deal, which has been challenged twice, was affirmed most recently this spring and may now be taken to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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