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One of the daughters of the Salvadoran mom who was denied refugee status in Canada. Photo by Chris Helgren/REUTERS

Churches challenge refugee policy

By Sheima Benembarek

The Canadian Council of Churches has joined a Salvadoran mother in her fight to stay in Canada. She and her two daughters fled their home country because of gang violence. Hoping to find refuge here, they tried crossing at Fort Erie’s Peace Bridge in Ontario last July, but a border guard denied their entry. Why? They were coming from the United States.

Under the 2004 Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), people must make their refugee claim at the first country they arrive in. Other than a few exceptions, they cannot seek protection in the second country. The Canadian Council of Churches (CCC), of which the United Church is a member, believes the policy is unjust and has been trying to overturn the STCA for years as part of a coalition with the Canadian Council for Refugees and Amnesty International. With U.S. President Donald Trump clamping down on immigration, the effort has grown more urgent.

“The asylum system in the U.S. has become more and more inhospitable and unsafe for refugees,” says Andrew Brouwer, counsel for the coalition, on why claimants are making their way north to Canada.

The coalition argues our neighbour isn’t even a safe country. “We don’t believe that [the United States] meets the standards set out in the [UN] convention on refugees. The STCA rests on countries meeting that standard,” explains Peter Noteboom, the CCC’s acting general secretary.

Thankfully, a federal judge has allowed the Salvadoran family to stay in Canada while its case winds through court. The coalition hopes this challenge will finally bring an end to the STCA. “As faith communities, the CCC is really committed to honouring the dignity of all people,” says Noteboom.

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