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Canada Slammed Door Shut to North Korean Escapees

Acceptance rate drops to zero with fate of North Koreans in Canada unknown.

Jeremy Nuttall 11 Sep

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here. He can be reached at [email protected]

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[Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated that 12 North Koreans have been deported from Canada since 2011, a number provided by the Canada Border Services Agency to The Tyee on Tuesday. After the story was published this morning, the CBSA contacted The Tyee to state that number is incorrect, and blamed the mistake on its own data-entry error. This story has been changed to reflect the CBSA's claimed error.]

Canada has not granted a single North Korean refugee protection in 2014, according to figures obtained by The Tyee.

As well, the Canada Border Services Agency initially told The Tyee 12 people have been deported from Canada to North Korea since 2011, but almost two days later said there was a procedural error and in fact none had been returned to the country.

On Tuesday, the CBSA told The Tyee it has "removed" a dozen North Koreans back to the country since 2011 with the latest one being 2014.

But late Wednesday the agency asked for more time to "fact check" its own figures and would not divulge why it had reason to believe an error may have been made. On Thursday, the organization blamed the figures on a data-entry error.

"As indicated, it was data entry errors," said Esme Bailey of CBSA. "An incorrect country of removal was listed."

The Tyee asked which country the 12 North Koreans were sent to from Canada and the CBSA could not provide an answer.

Since June, the Immigration and Refugee Board has rejected 132 of the 308 finalized claims forwarded to it while another 111 have been abandoned.

A further 65 claims have been withdrawn, which could mean the claimant withdrew the application or the government did for various reasons excluding applicants from consideration, such as ties to organized crime or status as a war criminal, said the IRB.

Not having granted any North Korean refugee protection is in stark contrast to 2012, when Canada allowed 230 of 708 claimants remain in the country.

In 2013, just 21 North Koreans were granted protection.

Amnesty International told The Tyee North Koreans sent back to that country could face imprisonment or torture for fleeing the country commonly called the "hermit kingdom" due to its secrecy and isolation.

"North Koreans are not allowed to travel abroad without state permission," said Gloria Nafziger of the organization. "If forcibly returned to North Korea, illegal border crossers typically face imprisonment, torture and ill treatment, and forced labour."

The organization said returned escapees could even face death.

Asylum system remains 'fair and generous': ministry

Last December, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander successfully appealed an IRB decision to grant refugee status to a woman and her daughter who came to Canada via South Korea on the argument that North Koreans are already able to claim South Korean citizenship.

At the time advocates warned the decision would close Canada's doors to North Koreans, of which only a couple thousand reside here.

Alexander would not comment directly on the case and the role it may have played in Canada not protecting any North Koreans this year, but his ministry insisted refugees are receiving fair treatment.

"Canada has a long and proud tradition of providing protection to those truly in need -- we have one of the most fair and generous immigration and asylum systems in the world," said the ministry in an email.

"Canada's revamped refugee determination system provides genuine refugees fleeing persecution with protection much more quickly, while those with unfounded claims will be removed faster."

New Democrat calls for investigation

Deputy Immigration critic Don Davies of the New Democrats called the numbers "disturbing" and questioned how anyone from North Korea could not be considered a genuine refugee.

"If people from North Korea are not given status as refugees, it's difficult to imagine what kind of country one would have to come from to qualify," Davies said.

He accused the Conservative Party of "dumbing down" the immigration system, effectively painting everyone with a broad brush for political gain.

But CIC said everyone enjoys due process and that the onus is on the claimant to prove they face harm in their homeland.

Still, Davies said he wants an investigation into the issue, and said there has been an increase in people being deported to some dangerous nations, before a pre-removal risk assessment has been conducted to determine if they are truly in peril upon return.

"In its desire for haste, (the Harper government) is compromising people's safety and sometimes lives," Davies said.

Reports of gulags, starvation and summary executions taking place inside North Korea are common and famine is thought to occur often.

According to reports from Amnesty International and other media outlets, countries known to deport people back to North Korea include China and Laos.  [Tyee]

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