Pubdate: Mon, 22 Nov 1999
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 1999 Southam Inc.
Contact:  300 - 1450 Don Mills Road, Don Mills, Ontario M3B 3R5
Fax: (416) 442-2209
Author: Adrienne Tanner


Call For All Honduran Migrants To Be Detained

VANCOUVER - Critics of Canada's immigration system are calling for all
Honduran refugee claimants in Vancouver to be jailed pending their hearings
because so many of them have been arrested on drug charges.

At a meeting with immigration officials last week, Doug Evans, a Burnaby
city councillor, pointed out that the Chinese boat people have been
detained since they arrived.

"Why not detain [Honduran claimants] until their hearings come up. They're
no different," Mr. Evans said.

"The Hondurans are brought here by organized crime. And once they get here
they send money back to pay for getting out of Honduras."

A persistent stream of drug dealers, many of them refugee claimants from
Honduras, has afflicted neighbourhoods along the Vancouver area's Skytrain
route for the past two years.

Last week alone, police arrested 30 drug dealers selling crack cocaine in
Metrotown Mall near the Burnaby Skytrain station. Of those, 28 were
Honduran, Mr. Evans said.

John Reynolds, the Reform party's justice critic, said that any refugee
claimant caught selling drugs should be sent to jail until his immigration
hearing comes up.

"I don't think there's any question that once they're picked up for these
kind of offences that they should be held," said Mr. Reynolds.

"We're not doing what we should be doing, which is protecting Canadians and
assisting legitimate refugees from the rest of the world."

Alastair Boulton, a Vancouver immigration lawyer, also questions why the
400 Chinese migrants were treated more harshly than a group with known
links to crime.

"It's a political decision made somewhere up the chain," said Mr. Boulton,
past chairman of the Canadian Bar Association's refugee section.

"We detained the Chinese because there was all this political uproar.
Although there was a fair bit of media attention about the Hondurans, that
decision was never made."

Rob Johnston, head of enforcement for Citizenship and Immigration Canada in
Vancouver, says that refugee claimants cannot be arbitrarily detained.

An independent adjudicator must be convinced the claimant poses a danger to
the Canadian public or is unlikely to appear at his or her refugee hearing.

Usually, immigration officials seek to detain only those refugee claimants
with criminal records, Mr. Johnston says.

The boat people were not considered a threat, but they were deemed unlikely
to carry through with their refugee claims, said George Varnai, B.C.'s
regional manager for Canada Immigration.

That judgment was based both on the "surreptitious" way they tried to enter
the country and the historically high abandonment rate by Chinese claimants
from the Fujian province.

"We have lots of history about Fujianese arrivals. The majority of them
disappear," Mr. Varnai said.

For the last four years, between 63% and 77% of refugee claimants from
China have abandoned their claims, according to Immigration and Refugee
Board statistics.

The abandonment rate for Honduran claimants, while only 36% in 1996, has
climbed steadily and in the first nine months of 1999 stood at 65%.

Mr. Boulton does not want Canada to begin locking up every refugee claimant
who crosses the border. "But when you've got high no show and allegations
of criminality, my goodness."

Mr. Johnston says his department has concentrated its efforts on improving
criminal record checks and speeding up the system.

The number of Hondurans deported rose from 28 in 1998 to 105 so far this
year, Mr. Johnston said.

Refugee claimants who come overland from Central America are photographed,
fingerprinted and checked for criminal records in the United States. Those
with records are detained and deported, he said.

The Immigration and Refugee Board has also sped up the hearing process, and
Mr. Johnston's staff are moving to deport quickly any refugee claimants who
commit crimes or simply lose their bid to stay in Canada.

The number of Hondurans deported rose from 28 in 1998 to 105 so far this
year, Mr. Johnston said.

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