In the News
Defence of Migrant Workers as Important as Ever
Human Smuggling a Symptom, Not a Root Cause
The recent deaths of the Patel family – a mother and father and their two children – from Gujarat, India, found on January 19 frozen to death close to an irregular crossing between Manitoba and Minnesota illustrates the dangers facing those seeking asylum both in the U.S. as well as in Canada. Most of those seeking asylum are forced to cross into Canada and the U.S. irregularly, as the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) prevents them from entering at the official border.
The Patel family tragedy prompted the writing of an article entitled “Asylum-seeker smuggling is a symptom, not a root cause,” published in The Globe and Mail on January 31, co-signed by Robert Falconer, research associate at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy and Craig Damian Smith, a senior research associate at the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration & Integration program at Ryerson University.
The authors note that instead of looking at how policies “incentivize” irregular migration and “produce such tragedies, Canadian politicians and news media have been quick to parrot rhetoric from other rich countries, speculating about the responsibility of criminal smugglers and wider networks of nefarious actors.”
They give the example that three months prior to the Patel family tragedy, the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary blamed smugglers for the death of 31 people when a boat capsized in the English Channel and that she also vowed to pass laws making it illegal to claim asylum.
With regard to “human smuggling,” a Florida man has been arrested in connection with the Patel family tragedy and the passage of other persons from Gujarat crossing the border irregularly into the U.S.
“We’re very concerned … that these individuals […] were left on their own in a blizzard when the weather hovered around -35 C,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy told a news conference shortly after the bodies were found.
“You’ll also note that I’m using the term victims — and that’s on purpose.” she added.
“What the political rhetoric around irregular migration misses,” Falconer and Smith argue “is that human smuggling is a symptom of the friction between the desire to migrate or find protection, and the absence of safe and legal pathways to do so. Prohibition in the face of high demand only fosters illicit markets, and “cracking down” on small-time criminals addresses symptoms, not the causes.”
“Since 2004, Canada and the U.S. have returned asylum seekers to each other under a Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which applies only to official ports of entry, leading to what is often called a “loophole” in the agreement. In fact, governmental discussions in 2001 recognized that sealing the border would mean more smuggling and a larger undocumented population,” they write.
“Many asylum seekers have crossed between border points to avoid being returned to the U.S., where they would likely face imprisonment and deportation.” And even though this time around, the Patel family was attempting to enter the U.S., the authors note that “The route the Patels were using developed precisely because the STCA incentivized irregular crossings.”
Between March 2020 and November 2021, when the irregular border between Canada and the U.S. finally reopened, Canada “turned back almost every asylum seeker on public health grounds. Inland claims increased significantly. Most will be from people on visas, but many have been forced to bypass new restrictions through clandestine crossings,” the authors point out.
For the two concerned academics, human smuggling is only a symptom, not a root cause, of the tragedies, which in my humble opinion is exploitation for maximum profit.
Last December, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear the appeal of the Canadian Council of Churches, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees on behalf of refugee families who want a legal way to apply for asylum at Canada’s land borders.
However, the matter must not be left solely to the courts to decide, nor to the politicians who are responsible for bringing in legislation and policies that criminalize and victimize these vulnerable people and trample on their rights.
It is only by stepping up the struggle for an end to the STCA and by ourselves working out what constitutes a truly humane immigration policy that the tables will finally be turned on the detentions, imprisonment, deportations and all the related tragedies we are seeing today.
(Workers’ Forum, posted March 1, 2022. With files from The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Montreal Gazette.)