Anyone seeking asylum from within Canada should now create an online account And file your claims through a computer portal – a change that advocates warn would create chaos and make asylum less accessible.
According to an email from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to refugee lawyers this week, the Canadian Refugee Protection Portal, or CRPP, launched as a sole means for people already in Canada to submit claims which starts on 6th October. .
Through the system, claimants can create an account, fill out a questionnaire and submit supporting documents, including their completed claim-Aadhaar form – online. It is also where requests to attend refugee-claims interviews as well as appointments for immigration medical exams and fingerprinting can be made.
“CRPP improves customer service and increases the efficiency of refugee claim processing in Canada, focusing on refugee intake by allowing claimants to submit their claims online,” officials said in the email.
“CRPP also ensures that customers submit complete information, which minimizes correspondence between the department and customers and allows IRCC to make eligibility decisions faster.”
The digital transition has shocked refugee lawyers as they say they came to know about the change through government emails without prior consultation.
Some are already foreseeing problems for claimants accessing the online asylum system because of language and technical barriers.
“This will cause some people to simply not claim refugee status and stay in Canada,” says Toronto refugee lawyer Raul Boulakia. “We all want the system to work, but it makes sense to work together, not to surprise people.”
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not return a request for comment before the deadline.
According to the Immigration and Refugee Board, 8,624 new claims were received in the first six months of this year, taking a total of 63,420 pending cases in the system, up from a peak of 87,270 at the end of 2019, before the pandemic slowed and restricted. Canada trip.
Canada has received a surge in claims since 2016 driven by anti-refugee policies under former US President Donald Trump, which has prompted many migrants to come to the country in search of security through uninsured land border entry points.
In 2019, the Liberal federal government provided $204 million over two years to address the growing intake of refugee claims, money that allowed the refugee board to hire more adjudicating and supportive staff to process cases.
The global pandemic has wreaked havoc on Canada’s immigration system, but the refugee board has been spared the chaos caused by those COVID-19 travel restrictions and has seen its refugee intake drop significantly.
In response to pandemic, immigration minister Marco Mendicino is bent on Modernizing the overall immigration system “By improving our technology, digitizing more of our operations, and virtually increasing the amount of processing.”
“CRPP will be a big change for clients and counsels; However, this is necessary for the IRCC to address the large percentage of unfinished claims it receives,” the immigration department said in its email to refugee lawyers.
“Our expectation is that the portal should help reduce processing time for eligibility decisions, which also means more timely referral of refugee claims to IRBs and issuance of work permits.”
A 2018 independent review called for a structural overhaul of the refugee board, but online submission of asylum claims was not studied or recommended in the report.
During the pandemic, due to the lockdown, the Immigration Department began accepting asylum bids by claimants or their lawyers by email, allowing them to submit correspondence and documents through Canada Post’s ePost portal.
Ifrat Arbel, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, said the refugee system, as it is, is already difficult to navigate because migrants must scramble to obtain necessary documents, basic translation services and legal aid to move forward .
With this now one has to get internet access, have laptop scanner, fill forms and upload documents on the portal, and any mistake can lead to nightmares to the bureaucracy, he said.
Refugee claimants usually consult with attorneys to assist with their claims, but to make sure everything is completed properly, their attorneys may help friends or community groups fill out the forms before going through the file. will do.
With the new portal, contenders have to create an account under their own email address, fill the webform page page by step. It can be difficult for their lawyer to sit in front of a computer with them because they are only covered by legal aid for a limited number of hours.
Arbel, who teaches refugee, prison and constitutional law, said the necessity that everything be done online creates another barrier for asylum seekers.
“I am concerned that this requirement hinders the ability of asylum seekers to make their claims in a timely and effective manner and could eliminate this widespread barrier that allows people with legitimate and pressing protection needs to best pursue their claims. stops moving forward,” she said.
Also, any delay in online registration would also delay claimants access to social and community services, government assistance and work permits they would need to work legally while awaiting their claims to be heard.
“I think we can completely anticipate delays and the profound impact those delays have on the lives of the people who are affected by them,” Arbel said. “I fully anticipate the bureaucratic burden as a result of mistakes made, but almost more importantly, mistakes carry heavy weight.”
Boulakia said he was trying to help a customer start an asylum claim online through the new portal, but had to give up because it was too cumbersome to request a lot of detailed information on the front end. Had been.
“You’re literally typing on forms on the Internet and trying to complete it. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes. You’re going to write something that will be full of inconsistent things or incomplete when you find yourself Will pressurize to get registered,” Boulakia said.
“There will inevitably be a lot of gaps. And you’ll be stuck with it, so you’ll be rejected for it.”
Calling the change a “complete surprise” and a “tectonic step”, Toronto immigration attorney Robert Blanche said he had already heard from associates who were blocked from the portal, and he cannot imagine that claimants would be able to access their documents. How to navigate the system on Dum.
“The bottom line is this is an issue of access to justice. Oh my god, this is just a claim to begin with,” said Blanche, who also sits on the Canadian Bar Association’s executive committee of the immigration department, but only on his behalf. speaks with.
“If it blocks or delays or jeopardizes a human’s ability to express a desire to initiate a refugee claim, we have a problem on our hands. The system should be designed to make it easier and faster, not More difficult, more complicated and slower.”
According to the email from the immigration department, those who have already made a claim through the previous email system need not transfer their case to the new portal.