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 Tuesday, 31 December, 2002, 11:37 GMT
Canada-US refugee deal raises concerns
USA and Canada border post, Washington and British Columbia
The US has tightened its border with Canada

There is growing concern in Canada that a new accord signed with the United States could make it much harder for refugees trying to enter the country.

Under the 'safe third country' agreement which the governments signed in December, refugee claims have to be made in the country they arrive in first.

In 2001 around 21,000 people made refugee claims at Canada's border with the US which has been criticised for harsh attitudes towards refugees.

 US Immigration and Naturalisation Service badge
US immigration services are tougher than Canada's
The agreement was made while Canada and the US were discussing how to improve security on their 4000 kilometre joint border, in the wake of the 11 September attacks.

The aim of the agreement is that the 20,000 people who turn up each year at the border seeking asylum in Canada will instead have to do it in the US - what the regulations regard as the first safe country they arrived in.

This has angered groups that help refugees.

Amnesty International says the US system does not meet the norms of other industrialised countries.

While refugees are awaiting a decision they cannot work for six months and receive no financial help.

They get both in Canada, along with access to free medical help.

In the weeks following news of the signing there was a sharp increase in the numbers of refugee claimants at the busiest border crossing near Buffalo.

The Canadian Council for Refugees says once the new rules are in place, many refugees will just try to cross the border illegally - where the border runs down the middle of the fast-moving waters of the St Lawrence river that's often extremely dangerous.

US officials admit that they are likely to see an increase in their workload with more refugees forced to make claims there.

But they seem happy to accept the extra workload and expense in return for having better control and knowledge of the people who are entering the country.

See also:

26 Jan 02 | Americas
21 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
10 Aug 01 | Americas
31 Oct 01 | Americas
05 Dec 02 | Country profiles
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