Saturday, 31 March 2012

Internal Flight: A Reintroduction and Why Mexico Is A Safe Country.

This is a post about a concept outlined in the UN Convention Relating To The Status of Refugees.  The concept is called internal flight and it is rarely given a mention as a possibly avenue for would be refugees to Canada who are fleeing alleged persecution and therefore a reminder of its existence is warranted every now and then.

According to the UN Convention internal flight "refers to a specific area of the country where there is no risk of a well-founded fear of persecution and where, given the particular circumstances of the case, the individual could reasonably be expected to establish him/herself and live a normal life."  Indeed, the Convention "does not require or even suggest that the fear of being persecuted need always extend to the whole territory of the refugee’s country of origin."  Simply put, the Convention recognizes that if a would be refugee claimant can flee a threat to their existence by relocating to another part of their country then expecting a refugee to peruse this option instead of seeking sanctuary in another country is not unreasonable.

The recognition of internal flight by the Convention is to help prevent what is known as ""asylum shopping."  Asylum shopping is exactly how it sounds.  It is the shopping around for nations to find the best positive outcome for one's refugee claim.  A recent example occurred here in Canada in 2009 when 76 Sri Lankan Tamils by-passed the United States and Australia, two signatory nations to the UN Convention Relating To The Status of Refugees, to specifically land on Canada's western shore.  It was also found that some aboard the boat were already denied refugee protection in the U.K. which is also another practice of asylum shopping: the repeated attempt to seek refugee status in multiple countries to see who will bite.  As a signatory nation to the Convention Canada would not be in violation of it if it turned away refugee claimants the nation felt that internal flight was a viable option open to them but, for whatever reason, failed to act on it.

What prompted this post was this one sided Toronto Star article on a group of Mexican activists' fear that their country may be considered a safe country by Canada to return Mexican refugee claimants to.  If internal flight is a possibility to find safety, of which it most likely is in Mexico, then Mexico is a safe country to return refugees to.

Much of the news out of Mexico is negative and concerns itself with the drug cartels and the violence inherent to the drug trade.  That's because if it bleeds it leads.  The impression given is a country lost in lawless chaos where nowhere and no one is safe.  But that's not true.

According to some ex-pat Canadians living in Mexico they consider most of the country safer than Toronto. In comparison to its neighbours and some U.S. cities Mexico is a lot safer.
For proof, Lopez-Negrete rolls out the statistics, derived from a combination of government and non-government sources: Of 2,500 municipalities (what we call counties), only 80, or fewer than 5 percent, have been affected by the drug war, which accounts for only 3 percent of all crime. Mexican cities are also safer than some urban centers north of the border: Mexico City, for example, has 8.3 homicides a year per 100,000 people. That's fewer than Miami (14.1) and Chicago (16.1). On a global scale, Mexico is safer than many of its neighbors. In 2008, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported Mexico's homicide rate as 11.6 per 100,000, significantly lower than Honduras (60.9), Jamaica (59.5) or El Salvador (51.8). 
In Mexico, like in many U.S. cities and even Canadian ones, if you want to avoid trouble there are places you just do not go to and escape as soon as possible by relocating to somewhere else in the city or country.  By doing so you exercise internal flight.

The Mexican activists in the Toronto Star article are alleging the systemic oppression by the Mexican government of it citizens but I do not see it.  The piece mentions some disappearances, some corrupt behaviour by Mexican soldiers and officials, but nowhere does it establish that these crimes are sanctioned by the government.  These crimes seem to be opportunistic and may be linked to the drug trade in some fashion.  But is crime enough to warrant a refugee claim?  No, not in and of itself and especially no, if they can flee it by relocating internally.  Mexicans are not cold-war era pro-democracy activists operating in eastern Europe and deemed enemies of the state.  If we are to entertain Mexican refugee claims on the basis that they are fleeing crime then we might as well grant asylum to the inhabitants of the inner city of the U.S.'s most run-down urban centres.  It's as if someone living in a poor, crime infested area of Detroit were to opt to make a refugee claim at the Detroit/Windsor border crossing instead of moving out of the city and to another part of the state or country.  It would be laughable if we did because we know well enough that they can simply move somewhere else in the county to find relative safety.  And so it goes for the majority of Canada's refugee claims.

Incidentally, Canada does receive many of its refugee claims at the US/Canada border which brings me to another concept covered in the Convention: the notion of the safe third country.  A "safe third country" is a country considered safe that the refugee had to pass through in order to arrive at their destination.  Since the U.S. is a signatory nation to the UN Convention it's a "safe third country" by all accounts.  As is most of Europe.  And since the majority of Canada's inland refugee claims arrive here via Europe or the U.S., Canada could, technically, turn them away and expect them to make their asylum claims in the countries where they can first find relative safety.

Canada could exercise these concepts and still meet its obligations to the world's refugees by vetting them abroad.  This is cheaper and more efficient since it circumvents the parasitic legal professions and does away with the costly IRB.  while getting at genuine refugees and not entertaining the self-selecting immigrant kind we have been so generous to these past decades.

Of course, this is all difficult to do thanks to the Singh decision of 1985 which was only possible, I might add, due to a poorly worded Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms; a document, it seems, written by lawyers for lawyers.  But it does allow for the execution of the notwithstanding clause which if invoked will grant the government the power to reverse the Singh decision.

This is what the government should do but strangely enough Jason Kenney has stated that he has no intent on revisiting the decision.  I find this odd since it's the very root of the mess of our refugee system.  What we get instead is the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act which will allow the Immigration Minister to designate countries of his or her choosing as safe given those countries satisfy certain conditions.  This just dodges the issue and makes the mess even messier with more layers of bureaucracy and avenues for lawsuits.  The list itself will also be politically sensitive and subject to manipulation influenced by ethnic-vote buying politics.  However to its credit it does recognize the concept that one can find safety within his or her homeland negating relocation to Canada so I guess I'll have to be satisfied with that for now.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

A few things came to mind while reading your post.

The question of internal flight is not really related to asylum shopping. Asylum shopping is when someone chooses between countries to claim refugee status. Your complaint about "internal flight" speaks to when someone chooses to leave the country instead of seeking protection within the home country.

When the IRB looks at whether there is an internal flight alternative, they are not looking at whether a city (such as Mexico City) is "safe" in a general sense, but whether it is "safe" for a particular person. So while most people in Mexico City might be "safe," this place might still be dangerous for someone who has become the target of a drug gang.

The main concern in Mexico is about corruption. Gangs can track people by corrupting public officials - and so even though the state has developed the ability to protect some people, this protection might be compromised by endemic corruption.

I'm not saying that all refugee claimants from Mexico fit the refugee definition, but I am saying that there are serious concerns about the ability of the Mexican state to protect certain people.

PaxCanadiana said...

The question of internal flight is not really related to asylum shopping.

You're right in the strictest definition of the term, however it is related to asylum shopping, at least how I see it, when internal flight is an option to an individual yet he/she keeps filing asylum claims to see which country will bite.

When the IRB looks at whether there is an internal flight alternative, they are not looking at whether a city (such as Mexico City) is "safe" in a general sense, but whether it is "safe" for a particular person.

Your comment focuses on Mexico's drug trade and the "refugees" that the trade produces. If that is the best you can offer then this tells me there is little reason Canada should be giving asylum to a Mexican "refugee" claim and that most Mexican "refugee" claims are bogus, as the refusal rate suggests.

In any case why would someone need safety from Mexico's drug cartels if they are not involved in the drug trade in some fashion? Are we granting safety to people who dug their own graves by the lure of easy drug money? I thought our refugee system was designed to protect people from political persecution and not their stupidity.

Besides, how much safer are they in Canada anyway? If a drug cartel really wanted them dead what's stopping them from assassinating the particular individual on Canadian soil? They can bribe a few officials, get some information, and find out where the particular individual went. It'll take a little more effort but it can be done.

The real question is if Mexico is a safe country and the answer is yes! We shouldn't be entertaining refugee claims from Mexico at all and a host of other countries as well. It's too costly and grossly inefficient but it does create overpaid public sector jobs in the IRB and in the end that's all the really matters anyway.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your responses - the Mexico question brings some interesting immigration debates to light.

My knowledge of the situation in Mexico is based on meeting refugee claimants. This is where we may differ - I believe their stories of persecution at the hands of drug gangs (which, in my view, are supported by media accounts and the personal evidence presented by these people).

The people I have met are generally business people who are approached by drug gangs to use their land/business to support the trade. When they refuse, they are threatened and sometimes physically/sexually assaulted.

I'm not sure why most people are safe in Canada, but I am glad that this is the case. It speaks to the power of our policing and to the inability of gangs to puruse their objectives here. It may also be that once someone has left Mexico, the gangs lose interest and move on to other targets.

PaxCanadiana said...

I believe their stories of persecution at the hands of drug gangs (which, in my view, are supported by media accounts and the personal evidence presented by these people).

By media accounts do you mean news reports that focus on the particular individual and his/her run-ins with the drug cartels? Or are you just referencing the media reports on the general mayhem of the drug trade? If the latter then how does that support their case?

And how reliable is personal evidence? Quick and easy entry into Canada is the reward and so when they have something to gain by lying then it should be expected to some degree.

Canada is world renowned for having a refugee system that can be easily gamed. Even people living in some of the poorest regions of the world, Somalia for instance, where access to information is hard to come by have learned about Canada's lax refugee system and how to game it. I find this remarkable.

The people I have met are generally business people who are approached by drug gangs to use their land/business to support the trade. When they refuse, they are threatened and sometimes physically/sexually assaulted.

So they say. There are people walking the earth who claim to be visitors from another planet sent to earth to bring a message of universal peace and understanding.

If the persecution stories tend to be the same with minor variation then this should raise flags. We had this problem with Sri Lanka's Tamils and still do to only to a lesser extent. Immigration officials discovered Tamils were fabricating stories and started to reject their claims. The stories literally changed over night and the official were being entertained with a whole new batch of bogus persecution stories out or Sri Lanka.

It speaks to the power of our policing and to the inability of gangs to puruse their objectives here.

You must live a sheltered life. Edmonton is becoming the murder capital of Canada over the drug trade. Vancouver is the heroin capital of North America where immigrant street gangs, mostly Asian and Indian gangs, control the trade. South American drug gangs are using the refugee system to get into Canada to establish contacts. Indeed, thanks to Asian immigration Canada rose up the ranks to becoming one of the top illegal drug-exporting nations in the world.

As for the police, well, studies show cops are not very effective at crime prevention despite the public perception and no matter how much money you throw at a police force but that's a topic of discussion beyond the scope of this blog.

Ultimately the question is whether or not fleeing crime is grounds for a refugee claim. I don't think it is. Look at it this way. Were that the case then why not grant asylum to the poor of the U.S.'s inner cities who are just as likely if not more so to be a victim of crime than any Mexican.