The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) which was enacted inn 2004 and is in place since then, provides provision to asylum claiming refugees to request protection from the very first country they can reach. But Wednesday saw a Canadian Federal Court declare a ruling which says that this agreement stays invalid in case of US as it has been consistently violating the refugees’ human rights. The court further said that deal is unconstitutional as in majority of cases US has been seen to imprison the refugees and asylum seekers.
This ruling is being viewed as a major victory for immigration activists in Canada. The refugees who had been returned away from the US-Canada border had lawyers who have repeatedly challenged the STCA saying that US does not “qualify as safe for asylum seekers.”
One of the detained refugees in US, Nedira Jemal Mustefa, explained court about her days of solitary confinement in US as “a terrifying, isolating and psychologically traumatic experience.”
Maureen Silcoff, the President of Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers told Reuters, “We’re all too familiar with the treatment that the US metes out to asylum seekers.”
The STCA was formulated to help manage the refugee claims and avoid the “asylum shopping” between countries in case of refugee influx. But these regulations are also leading to irregular crossings of asylum seekers at the border to avoid questioning and turning back by the border checkpoint officials. Since President Donald Trump took office and promised a regulatory crackdown on immigration, over 58,000 people have crossed border and entered Canada from US since 2017 to claim refuge. Canada has been processing the claims till pandemic hit, post which the government is indicating that refugees would be turned back. Many in Canada are also calling for suspension or renegotiation of agreement with US.
Ann Marie McDonald, Federal Court judge in Canada said that the STCA is in clear violation of section of Canada’s Charter of Rights which bans government to interfere in “right to life, liberty and security.”
Judge McDonald said in the ruling, “It is my conclusion, based upon the evidence, that ineligible STCA claimants are returned to the US by Canadian officials where they are immediately and automatically imprisoned by US authorities.”
“I have concluded that imprisonment and the attendant consequences are inconsistent with the spirit and objective of the STA and are a violation of the rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms”, judge further added.
The ruling will however be delayed for six months during which Canadian parliament and US congress to forward their response. The ruling can also be appealed.
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