Mexico again among Canada’s top sources of refugee claims after visa requirement lifted

FILE - An internal report says most Mexican refugee claims are being made at Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Graham Hughes

Refugee claims by Mexicans have increased sharply since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau allowed citizens of the country to enter Canada without travel visas, new figures show.

Almost 1,500 citizens of Mexico had refugee claims referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board in 2017 — six times more than in the previous year, when they totaled just 250.

A declassified Intelligence Brief obtained by Global News linked the growing number of claims directly to the federal government’s decision to lift the visa requirement on Dec. 1, 2016.

“The ease of visa-free travel … to Canada is a key pull factor at this time,” said the Canada Border Services Agency report, released under the Access to Information Act.

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“With the perception of easy entry into Canada, more persons are likely to attempt to enter Canada in both land and air modes.”

Ottawa imposed a visa requirement on visitors from Mexico in July 2009, after the country became Canada’s top source of refugee claims, which totaled 9,000 that year, most of which were rejected.

Subsequently, claims by Mexican citizens fell to 86 in 2014, and 111 in 2015. But during the 2015 federal election campaign, Trudeau made lifting the visa requirement part of his platform.

“Lifting the visa requirement will deepen ties between Canada and Mexico and will increase the flow of travellers, ideas, and businesses between both countries,” Trudeau said in his announcement.

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Just over a year later, Mexico has already climbed back into the top tier of source countries for Canada’s refugee claimants, now ranking 6th with 1,459 referred claims, after Haiti, Nigeria, Turkey, Pakistan and India.

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Michelle Rempel, the Conservative immigration critic, said she wanted to know what the government was doing in co-operation with Mexico to make sure the situation did not worsen.

She said lifting the visa requirement on Romanian citizens on Dec. 1, 2017, had also resulted in more refugee claims. Officials said last week that 232 Romanians had made claims since the visa lift. In 2017, only nine Romanian claims were accepted by the IRB.

“I think that the lifts of these visa requirements was short-sighted and were done without appropriate diligence, and we’re now seeing the results of that poor decision, which has translated into backlogs at the IRB and I think turning Canada’s asylum into a mockery,” Rempel said.

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Three-quarters of the Mexican refugee claims that were heard by the Refugee Board in 2017 were either rejected, abandoned or withdrawn. Only 25 per cent were accepted.

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Faith St. John, an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson, said the visa lift was “progressing as planned” and had “generated positive results” such as increased tourism.

“We continue to work with Mexico to monitor the progress of the lift and to discuss emerging issues,” she said. “As always, Canada reserves the right to re-impose a country’s visa requirement should the lift threaten the integrity of Canada’s immigration system.”

The five-page report by the CBSA’s Intelligence Operations and Analysis Division that Global News obtained was titled “[Redacted] Refugee Claims Three Months Post Visa Lift.”

All mentions of the country in question were removed by the CBSA but the document was about the consequences of a visa requirement lifted on Dec. 1, 2016. St. John confirmed that the only visa lift that day was for Mexico.

In this March 8, 2017, photo, members of the Solecito search group carry the coffin of Pedro Huesca, a police detective who disappeared in 2013 and was recently found in a mass grave linked to a drug cartel. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez)

The report said the majority of Mexican refugee claims were made in Quebec, specifically at Montreal’s Trudeau airport. Most claimed refugee status on the ground they feared drug cartels.

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“Key factors for relocation to Canada include: ease of visa-free travel and the perception of there being little to no crime or corruption in Canada,” the report said.

“With the elimination of the visa requirement, a level of pre-border screening has been removed,” the report added.

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