Canada will pay failed refugee claimants up to $2,000 to go home

Call it a parting gift, or maybe a bribe. Refugees claimants who failed in their claims for asylum in Canada are being given up to $2,000 and a one-way plane ticket home if they leave voluntarily, the Toronto Star reports.

A pilot program being run in the Greater Toronto area is being greeted with some approval by lawyers who work with refugee claimants but some say the money is little more than bribe, and a puny one at that, to get claimants to forego further appeals.

The Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration pilot program, launched last week, is run jointly by the Canada Border Services Agency and the International Organization for Migration.

"Currently, many failed refugee claimants do not respect their obligation to leave Canada, which leads to deportation, costly enforced removals by the CBSA and a permanent bar on returning to Canada," the agency says on its web site.

"Often this happens because people are unaware of the consequences of failing to comply with removal orders or simply do not have the means to leave or to support themselves when they return to their home countries."

The CBSA says the program could achieve up to 6,955 voluntary returns, allowing its enforcement officers to focus on higher-priority cases, such as catching suspected war criminals and foreign crooks.

"It's a win-win situation," Peter Showler, a law professor at the University of Ottawa told the Star.

Failed applicants retain their ability to reapply to come back to Canada and get some money to re-establish themselves, while the government gets prompt, trouble-free removal, he said.

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The CBSA says it's also received temporary funding to higher about 60 officers to speed the removal of unsuccessful refugee claimants, who sometimes disappear after exhausting their appeals and must be tracked down and deported.

The three-year program was launched in fiscal 2010-11 with a goal to remove an additional 4,232 failed claimants by next March. As of March 31, 3,658 were sent packing, reducing the agency's backlog.

The voluntary removal incentive could also save taxpayers money by reducing the cost of tracking failed claimants, immigration and refugee lawyers say.

"It's an incentive to go back . . . that doesn't trouble me," he told the Star. "There are people who may want to go but don't have the means to because they have been out of their country for so long. This is good for them."

The payment is based on whether a failed refugee claimant has started an appeal after being initially rejected. Claimants get $2,000 if they apply before going to federal court for a review of the decision, $1,500 if they apply before asking for a pre-removal risk assessment and $1,000 if they've received a risk ruling.

Sandaluk admit this amounts to a bribe for claimants to waive their legal rights to appeal.

"As a lawyer I don't like that too much but people are capable of making their decisions," he told the Star.

Deportations have risen in recent years. The CBSA removed 15,073 people in 2010, compared with 13,249 the previous year. Three-quarters were failed refugee claimants and 12 per cent convicted criminals.

There were 98,380 refugee claims made in 2010, compared with 106,530 in 2009, the Star said.

The voluntary removal incentive is similar to programs offered by 20 other countries. Britain, for instance, gives applicants up to $6,000, which critics say makes Canada's $2,000 maximum payment a relative pittance to help returnees start new lives.

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