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Canada and the Latin American migrant rights crisis

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Image: Saltillo Migrant Shelter

What is the role that Canada plays in the migrant rights crisis that has been making headline news throughout North America (Turtle Island)? Let's start in Mexico and work our way northward to understand the context of this situation.

The Peace Brigades International-Mexico Project accompanies the Saltillo Migrant Shelter, which is located near the Mexico-Texas border.

PBI-Mexico has noted, "The Saltillo Migrant Shelter offers daily humanitarian assistance -- including clothes, medicines, food, rest, and medical and psychological care -- to hundreds of migrants crossing Mexico to reach the United States."

Migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador have sought asylum in the United States from the poverty, violence, human rights violations and the impacts of climate breakdown (including food insecurity) in their home countries. The negative impacts of Canadian capital (notably mining projects) and support for the Honduran government have also been cited as contributory factors in this migration.

On July 1, The Washington Post reported, "In the weeks since Mexico signed a pact with the United States to stop migration [from Mexico into the United States], conditions in detention centers and shelters have deteriorated dramatically, according to diplomats and human rights officials who have visited the facilities."

That article highlights, "Mexico has detained 99,203 migrants this year and deported 71,110 of them, according to its immigration agency."

As of late June, Mexico also deployed 15,000 troops on its northern border to stop migrants from entering the United States.

Furthermore, on July 20, PBI-Mexico expressed its "concern about the visit this morning of the federal police to the Casa Del Migrante de Saltillo, for possible intervention and immigration verification at the hostel." The Casa had tweeted that the federal police had tried "to do immigration check in the [shelter] under the argument of verifying immigration status of sheltered persons."

You can read more about that in our article "PBI-Mexico expresses concern over federal police check at Saltillo Migrant Shelter."

National Public Radio reports, "If Mexico fails to satisfy Trump's demands, the next step could for Mexico to enter into a 'safe third country' agreement with the U.S. That would mean that asylum-seekers who travel through Mexico would have to apply for protection in that country, and would be ineligible to do so in U.S."

Canada already has a Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States.

The Globe and Mail has previously explained, "The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States, signed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, means that with few exceptions, refugee claimants must make their claim in the first safe country they arrive in. That means virtually all asylum seekers attempting to enter Canada through a U.S. port of entry will be turned away."

But significantly the article adds that "because Canada is a signatory of the United Nations' 1951 Refugee Convention, asylum seekers entering the country between border points are not automatically deported and may make asylum claims."

In other words, the agreement, reached by then-Liberal prime minister Paul Martin and then-U.S. president George W. Bush, does not cover asylum-seekers who cross through unguarded sections of the Canada-U.S. border.

In April, Reuters reported, "Canada wants the agreement rewritten to apply to the entire border. …'We'd like to be able to get [the United States] to agree that we can, if somebody comes across, we just send them back', [a Canadian official] told Reuters, adding Canada had raised the issue 'at least a dozen' times since."

Professors Anne-Emanuelle Birn (University of Toronto) and Liisa L. North (York University) have written in this article, "In the 1980s, Canada did open its doors to Central American asylum seekers amid the region's civil wars."

They add, "But the numbers were small. About two million ran for their lives, either internally displaced or forced to flee across borders, with fewer than 22,000 people taken into Canada between 1982 and 1987."

Professors Birn and North then comment in their analysis, "In 2017, Canada allocated a pitiful number of spots to Central Americans: out of 25,000 total spaces for resettled refugees, just 380 for all of the Americas."

On May 26, The Canadian Press reported, "The United Nations is urging Canada to help ease Mexico's refugee burden by helping resettle some of the most vulnerable of its new arrivals, including women, children and LGBTQ people."

"A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen was unable to provide statistics of how many Mexican asylum seekers Canada has received recently."

But some of those statistics have been reported on in Canadian media.

Global News has reported, "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."

That article then notes that the visa requirement was lifted on December 1, 2016 and that, "Three-quarters of the Mexican refugee claims that were heard by the Refugee Board in 2017 were either rejected, abandoned or withdrawn."

While the Casa Del Migrante de Saltillo is located more than 3,800 kilometres south-west of the Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (where the largest number of Mexican refugee applicants have sought asylum), geographic distance should not obscure the interconnectedness of Canada in the current migrant rights crisis.

Brent Patterson is a writer, political activist and the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. This commentary was originally published on the Peace Brigades International-Canada website here. Please follow PBI-Canada on Twitter here

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