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Participants seek refuge here

Refugees apply after Outgames, AIDS conference

As many as 130 refugee claims were made in Toronto this month from people attending the International AIDS Conference, and at least one claim was made by someone attending Montreal’s Outgames earlier this summer.

Citizenship And Immigration Canada (CIC) officials estimate these numbers will go up because some of the people who came to Canada for these events still have time to make claims.

“People who come in on a temporary residence visa have permission to stay in Canada for six months,” says Marina Wilson, with CIC media relations. “So we might have quite an increase in those claims because they often don’t claim until their last week in Canada.”

The Outgames attracted almost 11,000 athletes from around the world, as well as more than 1,500 delegates to its queer human rights conference. Though most participants hailed from rich and tolerant places like Canada, the US, Europe and Australia, about 15 percent came from elsewhere. The AIDS Conference attracted about 26,000 people, many from poor and troubled countries, many of whom are HIV-positive.

Foreign nationals can apply for refugee status in Canada on the grounds of persecution in their home country because of their race, religion, political opinion, nationality or membership in a particular social group — the last category is considered to include sexual orientation. Wilson says she can’t comment on how many claims, if any, were based on sexual orientation.

“Due to privacy, we cannot specify the country of origin or the details of the claims,” she says.

Once a refugee claim is filed, a hearing is set to determine if the claim is legitimate and whether or not the claimant will be allowed to stay in Canada.

Sometimes HIV status is considered in a claim, but being persecuted because one is HIV-positive is not reason enough.

“[CIC] looks at the claim by a case-by-case basis,” says Wilson.

“One has to be very, very careful on [how an HIV-positive] person can claim asylum,” says immigration lawyer Robert Blanshay because, for example, issues like inadequate healthcare in one’s home country doesn’t cut it.

“We knew that going into AIDS 2006 there would be a number of people who will take advantage of inland refugee claims, as they should,” says Blanshay. “A lot of HIV-positive people face persecution, unusual treatment, are refused healthcare, tortured, harassed. Another issue to combat is how these people are treated by virtue of being HIV-positive. They are treated like deviants and monsters and are persecuted. There’s a lot of complexities and nuances here.”

The federal government does not have a formal tracking system in place to count how many claims are made after an international event like the AIDS conference or Montreal’s Outgames.

“We take note if there is something unusual, such as [claimants] booking through a specific travel agency. It raises a bit of a warning flag for us: What can we do to fix the immigration system so it doesn’t fall into the tracks?” Wilson says. “We do monitor to maintain the integrity of the migration system but there is no formal tracking mechanism in place.”

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Who’s eligible, anyway?

Who are “convention refugees” and “persons in need of protection”?

The Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration And Refugee Board determines whether people who appear before it are one or the other.

The idea of convention refugees goes back to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating To The Status Of Refugees. It includes people who have left their home country and have a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. In Canada the “social group” category can include sexual orientation or gender.

“Persons in need of protection” are individuals whose removal to their home country would subject them personally to danger, torture, a risk to their life or a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

The risk must not be caused by the country’s inability to provide adequate health or medical care.

Certain people are excluded from making refugee claims, including people who have committed a crime against peace, a war crime or a crime against humanity, people who have committed a serious nonpolitical crime outside Canada, people who are guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations and people who have taken up residence in a country where they have rights similar to those of a national of that country.