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Theoretically, if one would like to make a refugee claim, they can do it in our in-land office,...

...after arriving at the airport or any other port of entry. Practically, immigration authorities expect anyone who has intentions other than visiting to declare their genuine purpose for coming to Canada at the port of entry. As a legal counsel, I prefer my clients take my advice before speaking to authorities because anything they say, can be interpreted against them at their refugee hearing before a refugee judge (adjudicator). All documents, statements, interview answers form a case for a refugee claimant and therefore will be part of a refugee hearing determination.

So, a refugee claimant arrived at the Canadian airport with a visitor’s visa for a temporary stay. At the same time, he or she brought a lot of luggage with clothing for a year of stay. Of course, the attention of the enforcement officer is triggered and the visitor is invited to the immigration interviewing room. It is time to disclose their true intentions. Some refugees who use false documents for travel are afraid that they will be “punished” for this. They shouldn’t however because the matter will be forwarded further to the refugee board for determination and our refugee board is aware that a refugee claimant might use a false passport in order to be able to escape from a country where their lives are at risk.

One should remember that lying to the immigration officer at the border due to fear of reprimand is the wrong approach. A refugee claimant is already on our soil and they will not be sent back to their country, if they say “I am afraid to return to my country”. I recall a recent case where a homosexual refugee seeker was so afraid to say he feared persecution and, in addition, did not want his family members who are Canadians, to learn about his homosexuality, that he was repeating to the officer that he did not have any fear to return to his country. As a result, he was issued a removal order and would have been sent home, if my office did not intervene. We offered him to proceed with an application to the Federal Court to overrule the officer’s decision to send him back to his country.

If a refugee status seeker is stopped at the airport, or voluntarily proclaimed to our authorities that they are not a visitor, but a refugee claimant, they would be interviewed right at the airport. The interview usually takes 2-4 hours. Most refugees don’t speak English, so they are assisted by an interpreter over the phone. Based on my experience, the interpretation is usually of very bad quality, making my work at the refugee board tough. Fortunately, our experienced judges (adjudicators) recognize that a refugee claimant, being tired from a long flight, assisted by an interpreter from a phone, often at night, could lose the quality of their story they want to tell. However, a refugee claimant’s statements are subject to be examined for their credibility, so inconsistencies in testimony might undermine credibility and result in a claim’s refusal.

The immigration officer has a standard set of questions which they will put before the refugee claimant. First of all, the identity of the seeker for protection would be established. So, you have to answer truthfully who you are and whether or not your passport is genuine. The officer will further examine your visa to Canada and ask you to provide in detail how you obtained your visa, what consulate or embassy issued it, who facilitated the obtaining of the visa, their names, the sum of money you paid, and the information you provided. The purpose of these questions, in my opinion, is to track down smugglers for refugees. So, on the one hand, we have to protect refugees, on the other hand, we have to prevent illegal entry to Canada. That’s why the roles of immigration officials and the refugee board are different at this point.

You will be asked whether or not you have a counsel (a lawyer or paralegal) to represent you. Your legal counsel is technically not allowed at the interview, but I was participating in many interviews of my clients because I have an excellent reputation and the officials know that I would not jeopardise the interests of my clients and will ensure that the department of immigration does not violate my client’s rights. You will further be asked questions about your birth place, countries of citizenship and residence, addresses and other basic personal information, about your military services including voluntary service in an army; whether or not you have ever participated in any political or terrorist organization. If you claim political asylum and answer that you have never been a member of any political organization, you will have difficulties in proving your case at your refugee hearing. So, be consistent in your story and don’t leave out any significant details. There will also be questions about your family members, both, Canadian relatives or those left at home. Some of my clients omit to mention their children because they are advised by unscrupulous consultants that mentioning children, especially when they won’t come to Canada, could complicate the process. You might be later accused of misrepresentation and you will not be able to sponsor your children in the future if you did not disclose their existence at the time of your interview. You will be asked whether you or any of your family members ever had a refugee claim in any country. Very often I receive telephone calls from countries like Germany or Holland and refugees there, who were granted protection, ask me if they can relocate to Canada and receive a refugee status here. My answer is no; moreover, if you made a refugee claim in the past in Canada and were rejected, or abandoned your claim, it is not possible to open your refugee claim again. You will also be asked about any criminality since anyone who has committed a serious crime, or violated international laws, is excluded from the right to be protected under the Convention. You have to explain, if you have ever participated in acts of violence against a government; whether you held a government position yourself. A very important aspect of any refugee claim is your travels to countries other than your residence country, including Canada. If, for example, you fear persecution in your country, but had traveled to France, the question would be why you did not claim refugee protection there. The Canadian immigration officer will make inquiries on your detailed route to Canada. If you exited your country by train, traveled through Europe and then jumped on a plane in Spain to travel to Canada, you will be asked to provide details on how long you were staying in each country and whether or not you had the opportunity to claim for protection in any country which is signatory to the Geneva Convention.

A very tricky question is “how long do you intend to stay in Canada?” which confuses refugee claimants as they want permanent protection. But the authorities want to make sure you will leave Canada, if your claim is rejected and if you answer “I will never leave no matter what because I am afraid” you will be detained. The best answer would be “indefinitely” or “until my refugee claim is finalized”. You have to identify against what country or countries you make a refugee claim. If you have the legal right to reside in two countries, but claim for protection against one then you are expected to be safe in the other country. Finally, there will be a question on the reasons of your fear to return to your country. The immigration officer will not be interested in a detailed story as they know that the refugee division will be deciding your case, but I would still recommend describing major events that happened to you and clearly state the reasons of your claim. At the end of the interview, you will be asked to sign a very important document, a conditional removal order. The authorities have to make sure that you will leave Canada, if your claim is rejected by a refugee judge later.

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