rights groups urge Canada to end “abusive” detention of immigrants | Human rights news

Montreal, Canada – The indefinite nature of Canada’s immigration detention system causes psychological damage to thousands of people detained each year, including asylum seekers, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a new report Thursday.

The report, titled “Immigration Detention in Canada and Its Impact on Mental Health,” said immigration detainees are handcuffed, shackled and held in solitary confinement, among other harsh conditions.

But not knowing when they will be released, as Canada has no time limit for a person to be held in immigrant detention, in particular, worsens the psychological effect of their detention, groups said. defense of rights.

“Canada is proud to welcome refugees and newcomers with open arms, even though it is one of the few countries in the north of the planet where those seeking safety risk being locked up indefinitely,” said Samer Muscati, associate director of disability rights at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. a statement accompanying the report.

“This leaves many without the certainty – or even hope – of when they will be free again, which can have a devastating impact on their mental health.”

Refugees who have crossed the Canada-U.S. Border illegally wait in a temporary detention center in Quebec, Canada [File: Geoff Robins/AFP]

Immigration detention

Canada holds thousands of immigrants every year.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), which enforces Canada’s immigration laws, can detain a person if they believe they pose a security threat or will not appear for immigration proceedings, between other reasons. However, the CBSA must consider alternatives to detention.

There are three immigration detention centers in Canada – in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia – but immigration detainees can also be transferred to provincial jails under special circumstances.

The number of immigrant detainees increased steadily between 2016 and 2020, according to the report, reaching a peak of 8,825 people in immigrant detention in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Canadian authorities have released people “at an unprecedented rate” during the coronavirus pandemic, which researchers Amnesty International and HRW say indicates there are alternatives to detention.

The CBSA told Al Jazeera in an email that 62 detainees were being held in immigration detention centers in Canada as of June 14, while 97 other immigration detainees were being held in provincial correctional facilities.

The number of immigrant detainees rose steadily between 2016 and 2020 in Canada, but fell dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

The releases came amid national pressure to release detainees in order to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks inside detention centers. Inmates at an immigration detention center north of Montreal, Quebec, for example, went on a hunger strike last year over fears they could contract the virus inside the facility.

“Here at the detention center we are in a confined space, every day we see people arrive, immigrants, from everywhere, who have not had any medical appointment or any test to determine if they are potentially carriers of the virus. “, he added. inmates wrote in a March 2020 letter to federal government ministers, shared by immigrant rights advocates.

“There is also the presence of security personnel who are in daily contact with the outside world and who have not been tested either. For these reasons, we are writing this petition, asking to be released. “

Government position

In an email to Al Jazeera, CBSA spokeswoman Judith Gadbois-St-Cyr said the agency would review the findings and recommendations of Thursday’s report.

“We can tell you that the CBSA is committed to respecting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the relevant international standards set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Agency is committed to ensuring the dignified and humane treatment of all persons detained under immigration legislation, ”said Gadbois-St-Cyr.

She added that “detention is a last resort and alternatives to detention are always being considered.”

“The CBSA strives to ensure that it exercises responsibility for detentions to the highest possible standards, with the physical and mental health and well-being of detainees, as well as the safety of Canadians being paramount considerations. . “

But Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, urged the government to gradually end immigration detention.

“Canada’s abusive detention system stands in stark contrast to the rich diversity and values ​​of equality and justice for which Canada is known to the world,” she said in the statement accompanying Thursday’s report.

“There should be no place in Canada for racism, cruelty and human rights abuses against people who come to this country in search of safety and a better life,” she added. .

Post-traumatic stress

Since 2016, more than 300 detained immigrants have been detained for more than a year in Canada, according to the report.

Researchers said that not knowing when they would be released caused “trauma, distress and a sense of helplessness” for inmates, as well as exacerbated existing mental health issues, leading to depression, anxiety and stress. Posttraumatic.

“Many detained immigrants develop suicidal thoughts when they begin to lose hope, especially those fleeing traumatic experiences and persecution in search of safety and protection in Canada. Detention for immigrants has particularly damaging effects on communities of color, asylum seekers, children and families, ”the report reads.

“With a criminal sentence, your release date is the only thing you hang on to,” an immigration inmate who was held in a provincial jail in Ontario last year told researchers. on condition of anonymity.

“When you don’t have that, you spiral… The unknown in immigrant detention is mental cruelty, torture. It is beyond a violation of human rights.

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