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US asylum system inhumane – Canadian court rules

28 July 20200 comments

A Canadian court has ruled that the US’ treatment of asylum seekers is in breach of human rights.

Canada’s Federal Court ruled that an existing ‘safe third country’ agreement with the US violates human rights protections in Canada’s constitution.

Under the ‘Canada-United States Safe Third Country Agreement’, struck in 204, people attempting to claim asylum at official border crossings between the US and Canada are sent back to file their claim in the country where they first arrived.

In a case brought by a coalition of asylum seekers and advocates, the court ruled the US no longer qualifies as a safe third country because it jails returning asylum seekers, who then face ‘cruel and unusual’ conditions of detention and the risk of refoulement.

The Canadian government has six months to respond before the ruling becomes effective.

Since 2017, more than 58,000 people have entered Canada through unofficial border crossings from the US to claim asylum.

Federal Court Justice Marie McDonald based her ruling partly on testimony from asylum seekers who described harrowing conditions of confinement in US detention, to which they were taken when returned by Canada.

One of them, a refugee from Ethiopia named Nedira Jemal Mustefa, told of what she called a “terrifying, isolating and psychologically traumatic” experience at a “freezing” facility where she was held in upstate New York.

Other testimony in the Canadian court provided evidence that detainees in US facilities were denied access to lawyers, phone calls and translators, and some were subjected to solitary confinement.

The judge found the “accounts of the detainees demonstrate both physical and psychological suffering because of detention, and a real risk that they will not be able to assert asylum claims” in the United States.

Signally, the ruling has attracted the attention of the editorial board of the Washington Post.

In an editorial, the Washington Post said: “Not so long ago, asylum seekers turned to the United States, seeking refuge from repressive states. Now the United States is one of those repressive states”.

The Post said that none of the claims of ill treatment from asylum seekers are surprising to advocates and others who have monitored the conditions endured by asylum seekers, especially since President Trump took office.

“In the past two years, his anti-immigration policies have prompted more than 50,000 asylum seekers to cross into Canada outside official ports of entry, thereby skirting the treaty’s automatic-return provision — until the pandemic forced the border’s closing this spring,” the editorial said.

“After arriving in Canada and undergoing security and medical screening, they have been allowed to work and receive basic benefits such as medical care as they await adjudication of their asylum claims.

“Canada is among the United States’ closest allies; gratuitous America-bashing is not the norm there. That a Canadian judge would give a failing grade to this country’s commitment to human rights where they concern refugees is a damning rebuke,” the Post editorial said.

Before her ruling takes effect, the Canadian government has six months to appeal it.

“The question facing the administration of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is whether its neighbour to the south still adheres to what Western democracies regard as the basic standards of dignity and decency on which the original treaty was based. The evidence suggests it does not,” the Washington Post said.