Feds to clear ‘legacy’ backlog of refugee claims

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Applicants who have waited over seven years to find out if they can remain in Canada will soon get to know their status, as Ottawa now turns its attention to an even bigger backlog of fresh asylum claims.

The old list of stagnating cases one point stood at 32,000 claims and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen was eager to shine a spotlight this week on his government’s successful efforts at cutting it to almost nothing.

The people whose cases have been on that list came to Canada seeking refugee protection prior to December 2012. That’s when the Conservatives, then in power, established new 60-day deadlines for refugee hearings. That left the 32,000 cases already in the system to be bumped to lower priority for scheduled hearings because they were already late.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the people whose refugee claims were part of a “legacy” backlog can now “stop their lives being held in limbo.”

Thanks to the efforts of a special task force struck to deal specifically with legacy cases, only a handful remain. The one per cent that are left have been suspended, have already had hearings and are awaiting decisions or are scheduled to be heard between now and July.

But even as immigration officials celebrate the elimination of this backlog, another even larger inventory of refugee claims looms at the Immigration and Refugee Board.

“The past 24 months have seen the highest volumes of refugee protection claims in the IRB’s history,” the departmental plan document states. “As a result, an inventory of more than 75,000 claims has accumulated, representing more than two years of work at the current funding levels.”

Hussen also pointed to new investments contained in this year’s federal budget that promise $208 million in new money for the IRB to tackle refugee claims. This money goes toward hiring 130 new staff, including 85 new decision-makers.

Spending of $74 million over two years contained in last year’s federal budget helped the IRB to finalize its highest number of cases ever, Hussen said.

This year, even more money is to get the IRB to the point where it can process 50,000 claims per year.

The Immigration Department projects wait-times for asylum seekers awaiting a refugee hearing will be cut almost in half, from the current two years to 13 months. And for those who go through the streamlined file-management system, wait times could be as low as four months, Hussen said. -CINEWS

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