'Forgotten refugees' say they're tired of waiting for their cases to be heard

July 7, 2017
Article Source
Toronto Star

Some came to Canada for asylum as children and are now finishing high school. Others arrived as young adults and are now parents. Many have not seen their families back home for five or six years.

On Thursday, these "forgotten refugees" who have been waiting for an asylum hearing since 2012, held a silent protest in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board headquarters in Toronto, hoping to be heard by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government.

It took courage for them to come forward, as many still have loved ones back home facing persecution while others fear repercussions by Canadian officials and the public for demanding rights and justice, said protest organizer David Mateo Camelo, a refugee claimant from Colombia.

"We are tired of waiting. We are tired of not being heard," said the 21-year-old, who came here with his parents, sister and nephew in September 2012 after his father, a provincial politician, was allegedly targeted by guerrillas associated with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as FARC. "We have faces. We are not just papers."

There are about 5,500 so-called "legacy" asylum claims waiting to be heard. These are claims filed before Dec. 15, 2012, when the former Conservative government overhauled the asylum system by introducing statutory timelines to hear new claims and expedite removals of failed claimants — leaving the old cases on the back burner.

This spring the refugee board launched a legacy task force and dedicated $3 million yearly to address the backlog by hiring more than 20 retired refugee judges to focus on these drawn-out cases, the majority of which were filed in 2011 and 2012, and some even earlier.

In June, the board said it would start scheduling hearings for legacy claims for September and hopes to clear the legacy cases in two years.

Board spokesperson Anna Pape said legacy claim hearings will start on Sept. 18 and a team of decision-makers will hear between 42 and 53 cases a week.

Read more: 'Forgotten refugees' say they're tired of waiting for their cases to be heard