It recently emerged, based on official statistics released by the Canadian government, that Nigeria produced the second highest number of refugee claimants in Canada in 2017, second only to Haiti. Nigeria is presently on course to overtake Haiti in 2018.
Haiti, which was devastated by an earthquake in 2010, understandably leads the pack due to the decision by the Donald Trump-led US administration to end the temporary protected status programme under which Haitians were allowed to remain in the USA indefinitely.
Naturally and on the one hand, undocumented US-based Haitians cross the border into Canada to seek asylum as there is a large community of Diaspora Haitians in Quebec. The current upsurge in the number of Nigerians seeking asylum in Canada, on the other hand, is not down to an ecological catastrophe in Nigeria. A number of reasons are attributable. But that is not the focus of this piece.
With many years under my belt as a Canadian-based practising immigration lawyer, I have noticed a trend in the irregular migration of Nigerians to Canada: most arrive unprepared for what lies ahead of them and with a bag-load of myths.
This write-up attempts to provide a guide to those who may be planning on undertaking an irregular migration to Canada while at the same time dispel baseless rumours that may have triggered the unhealthy interest in pursuing irregular migration to Canada.
An irregular migration is an attempt by migrants to enter into, live and work in a country by illegal means. For instance, thousands of Nigerians have entered into Canada by simply walking across the largely unsecured border between the USA and Canada. They, typically, do not have a visitor visa to Canada but entered the USA legally having secured a visitor visa into that country.
The many pitfalls associated with this migration pattern call for intending migrants to familiarize themselves with these five preparatory steps which are derived from my professional and positional experience, both as a practising immigration lawyer and as a Nigerian-Canadian.
1. Understand Canada’s Refugee Protection Law
Canada is a signatory to the United Nations’ Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the “UN Convention”) by which it is obligated to, among other provisions, “provide free access to courts for refugees” who have fled their country of habitual residence by reason of being ‘persons in need of protection’ and/or being ‘convention refugees’.
Canada has domesticated the provisions of the UN Convention in its Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (“IRPA”). The IRPA recognizes the two aforesaid classes of refugees.
A convention refugee is someone who is outside his/her country of habitual residence and is unable to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion, nationality or membership in a social group, such as women or people of a particular sexual orientation.
A person in need of protection is someone who cannot return to his/her home country because of the fear of being subjected to a danger of torture, risk to life or the risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.
These two definitions require a careful explanation which only a competent Canadian immigration lawyer can provide. It is important that an intending refugee claimant understands how his/her reason – known as the basis of claim - for seeking refugee protection in Canada ties in with the definitions of the two classes. An intending claimant should consult a Canadian immigration lawyer who will be able to test the claimant’s story against Canada’s refugee protection law with the knowledge the lawyer has in immigration law practice.
2. Prepare the Basis of Your Refugee Claim Before You Enter Canada
Most intending refugee claimants arrive in Canada without a cogent reason for seeking protection. They rely on unscrupulous immigration consultants and lawyers to provide them with “stories that work.” Some immigration lawyers and consultants are only interested in the claimants’ money. Remember that your lawyer will be paid regardless of the outcome of the hearing of your claim. It behoves you to retain a lawyer who understands that your survival is riding on the outcome of your refugee claim.
Prepare your ‘story’ - or the basis of your claim - before you depart Nigeria. Do not accept a made-up or already prepared ‘story’ that is written for you by a lawyer or a consultant or your family member or a friend. Such ‘stories’ are usually plagiarized from previous claimants. Over time, members of the adjudication panel become overly familiar with ‘stories’ such as “… my family wants to circumcise my daughter(s) ” or “… I was kidnapped and was nearly killed; hence I fled to Canada” or “… I am fleeing from Boko Haram.”
Test your ‘story’ with the definitions set out above. You understand your situation better, hence you are in the best position to tell your story. Note that you will be examined by the adjudication panel on the veracity of your claim. Credibility is a key determinant at the hearing of refugee claims. This is why I advise that you stick to the truth.
3. Do not Attempt to Enter Canada Illegally from the USA
You may have been told that you can easily enter Canada from the USA. It is true that Canada’s borders with the USA are generally unmanned. There has never been a need to secure the borders since both countries are affluent and their citizens can easily travel to and fro without a visitor visa. But Canada’s federal police, the RCMP, are present at some of the border crossing points.
If you are caught trying to enter Canada illegally, the RCMP will arrest and deport you to Nigeria, and not to the USA, even though you may still have a valid visa to the USA. A foreign national is usually deported to his/her country of habitual residence and not to a country to which he/she holds a visitor visa.
You may have watched the viral video of RCMP officers assisting Nigerian refugees with their luggage. Do not be tempted to migrate to Canada through illegal means because of that video. RCMP officers are kind and courteous but the individuals being helped in the video clip had already entered Canada before they were accosted by the RCMP officers. The UN Convention obligates Canada to allow an intending refugee claimant who is already in Canada to file a refugee claim without being harassed or arrested.
Had the individuals been caught before entering into Canada, they would have been arrested to face immediate deportation. If you enter Canada illegally and you do not have a family member who resides in Canada, according to Canada’s refugee protection law, your refugee claim will be automatically refused.
4. Fact-check Information You Receive from People
There are a lot of myths being peddled around. It is not true that refugee claimants receive monthly stipend from the government. The government only pays refugees who were sponsored by the government. Those who have been brought to Canada by the Canadian government due to conflicts in their home countries are known as government-sponsored refugees.
They are the people who receive monthly stipend for the twelve months following their arrival in Canada. Privately-sponsored refugees also receive stipend from their private sponsors. Those who apply for protection while in Canada – as are all the Nigerians – do not receive monthly stipend.
It is true that you will be given a work permit soon after you apply for refugee protection. This is to enable you seek employment while you await the determination of your claim. Do not take this to mean that your claim will be successful or has been accepted. Do not tell your family members or friends that “Canada has given me papers” as most Nigerians erroneously communicate to their fellows.
Your Nigerian travel documents, including your passport, will be confiscated by the government once you submit your refugee claim. You will also be issued a removal order at the same time. This is to ensure that you are removed from Canada should your claim be refused.
5. Retain a Competent and Sincere Lawyer
You need a competent and sincere lawyer to help you determine your chances of success based on your basis of claim and supporting documents. A competent lawyer will help plead your case before the adjudication panel.
Research the lawyer or consultant before you retain him/her. Confirm that the individual is a qualified lawyer who is a registered member of a law society in Canada. You can obtain information on the lawyer by visiting the website of the law society he/she belongs to. Ask the lawyer for this information.
Determine if the lawyer is actually interested in your case or in your money. One rule of thumb is: if the lawyer does not critique your ‘story’ and demand supporting documentation, where available, he/she is probably in for the money or is incompetent in this area of law.
Idowu Ohioze, a Canadian immigration lawyer, can be reached via [email protected] or www.andrewlaw.ca.