Refugees: Credibility is the Key for Successful Refugee Claimants

By Marcello Paolinelli

Settling into a new country is quite a challenge for many immigrants. In the case of refugees, people who are forced to flee persecution, the situation can be even more challenging. Canada provides protection to thousands of people every year under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

According to Leslie Lakos, an immigration consultant in Toronto, unless you are being brought in through the resettlement program, you must either make your claim at the point of entry (in most cases at the airport) or from within the country (inland applications).

Once Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has determined eligibility, the claim is referred to the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) of the Immigration and Refugee Board. From that point on, says Lakos, "…the core of any refugee claim – is credibility." Because of this, an inland claimant, during the examination, may be asked why the claim was not made at the point of entry.

Lakos observes that there are some legitimate reasons, and gives an example of a woman who came to Canada with her abusive common-law partner. Then she found out that women are protected here and she had the courage to separate from her partner immediately and changed her claim. "The first claim was based on the husband’s story. The second one was true," explains the consultant.

Another reason can be that the person has no idea how the procedure works. "There is a misconception with many claimants that if they’re making their refugee claim at the airport they might be sent back immediately." While this is not true, an airport claimant who is found ineligible to make a claim may be sent back after a negative Pre-Removal Risk Assessment. Lakos underlines that the person has only one chance to make it right, so the bottom line is "tell the truth, you must not embellish, you must not omit". He says he has seen too many lives shattered after they were refused for lack of credibility.

It is important for the claimant to have, in hand, all the identification (passport, driver’s license, etc.) and documents that backup their story. This can include, for example, reports from hospitals or police in cases of physical abuse.

Although there are cases when having no documents is understandable, again credibility plays a big role and can be the key for success. "This is equivalent to your résumé when you are searching for job," says the consultant.

Lack of knowledge about immigration and particularly refugee law, combined with little information about Canada and problems with the language make it hard for some people to make the right decision when claiming refugee status. And the situation can be aggravated if the person makes the wrong move when asking for help. "A common mistake is to rely on people who don’t necessarily know the law, or the machinery of the refugee procedure," says Lakos.

Bad advice coming from friends or unscrupulous counselors for the claim process can result in disasters. The best way to make sure a consultant is a qualified professional is to check his/her name at the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants website (www.csic-scci.ca)

Leslie Lakos observes that there are still many abusers of the system, people who use the refugee claim just to stay longer in the country. He says he understands the temptation of being able to work or study, receiving financial assistance or being covered by the health insurance is big, but advises, "…if there is no ground to make the claim, do not make it!" In many cases, these people could come to Canada legally if they chose the right way, such as using the federal skilled worker program or the business immigration stream.

Once a Canada Border Services Agency or a Citizenship and Immigration Canada officer decides the person is eligible to make a claim for refugee protection, the claim will be referred to the RPD for a hearing.

Refugee claimants are able to apply for a work or study permit after the eligibility decision is made. They do not need to wait until the RPD decision is made. Then the applicant has to fill the Personal Information Form (PIF). "The PIF is the most important document he or she has," says Lakos. The applicant should write down everything that can be relevant to the case and it is always good to have a second opinion. It is also crucial to be attentive to the deadline of 28 days to send it to RPD. What’s the reason? Credibility!

When the RPD accepts the claim, applicants receive the status of "protected persons". This status gives them certain rights in Canada – most importantly, a protected person cannot be removed to a country where they risk persecution.

If the RPD rejects the claim the person must leave Canada within 30 days. But he or she can still apply to the Federal Court of Canada for a judicial review of the decision. Another two options are applying for a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) or staying in Canada on Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds.

Refugees who are resettled from overseas are permanent residents as soon as they arrive in Canada, while the ones who make claims here must make separate applications for that. After three years, permanent residents are entitled to apply for Canadian citizenship.

Among the obligations that refugee applicants should have in mind, Lakos says the most important is making sure not only the Immigration and Refugee Board, but also Citizenship and Immigration have their up-to-date addresses – especially if they have moved. He reminds people that IRB and CIC are two different entities, so you must change your address with both.

The Canadian government offers financial assistance for government-assisted refugees and loans for all resettled refugees. The Immigration Loans Program (ILP), for example, can help on the costs of medical examinations abroad or transportation to Canada. Assistance loans are also available to newcomers to cover basic household needs and labour market access needs. The Interim Federal Health Program (IFH) provides for essential medical and dental care until their provincial health plan coverage begins.

A list of service organizations for settlement assistance can be found here. According to CIC, in-Canada refugee claimants have not been selected for resettlement and are therefore not eligible to receive any resettlement assistance.

CNM