October 10, 2007

Political Asylum Becomes Private Detention

“Untouchable” refugees — including the elderly, certain ethnic groups, large families, single men and poorly educated individuals — remain unwelcome in many prospective host countries, according to a new U.N. report.

The report notes that even if their asylum claims are justified, refugees from countries like Iraq, Sri Lanka and Somalia face a poor reception depending on where they go.

Some countries even refuse to allow ocean-traveling refugees to disembark when their ships make landfall.

Those that are permitted entry may be treated no differently than criminals, facing “legal limbo” in private detention centers, according to Reuters.

A U.N. official said the surge of private detention centers allows governments to shed their responsibility for the refugees, creating prison-like conditions that are reinforced by a growing detention industry.

Despite these issues, asylum-seekers are on the rise worldwide.

Windsor, Ontario, has seen an influx of hundreds of Mexican refugees from the U.S., where they have been living under the threat of deportation, reports CBC News.

Thousands more are believed to be on the way, but the mayors of Windsor and Toronto say their shelters are full.

The refugees may not have a case — fleeing deportation is different from the threat of persecution — but they hope to stay in Canada for “quite some time.”

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board has a backlog of 30,000 cases.

New Zealand officials say their refugee screening system is increasingly fleeced by “bogus” refugees who make up stories about persecution in their home countries.

Twenty-three refugees previously accepted by the country’s Refugee Status Branch had their status cancelled in 2006 — an increase of 13 from the previous year.

In the United Kingdom, public pressure forced the government to change their position and offer Iraqi interpreters employed by British soldiers the possibility of asylum.

Perceived as supporters of the occupation, interpreters have been threatened and killed by insurgents every year since 2003.

Others have seen their families threatened or been forced to flee to Syria or Jordan.

Countries like Denmark and the United States already have asylum programs for Iraqi interpreters.

The British proposal still faces criticism because it excludes other British employees in Iraq who face equal peril, including drivers and cleaners.

Sources:

“U.N. worried detention business is hurting refugees”
Reuters, October 4, 2007

“NZ First criticizes migrant screening”
The Press (New Zealand), October 4, 2007

“Toronto mayor warns city can’t handle refugee influx”
CBC News, October 5, 2007

“Scared and alone, interpreters are finally offered a way out”
The Times (U.K.), October 6, 2007

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