Friday, February 2, 2007

U.S. wants Canada to accept more Iraqis

Globe and Mail
20 Jan. 2007
U.S. wants Canada to accept more Iraqis

Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- The United States is calling on Canada to accept more refugees from Iraq. It also wants Ottawa to reinterpret federal immigration rules so that about 40 Cubans claiming refugee status, who are now housed at the American naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, can move to Canada.

A current strict interpretation of the rules would disqualify the Cubans because technically they are still residing in their native country.

Ellen Sauerbrey, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for migration and refugees, spent two days in Ottawa this week discussing the matter with foreign affairs and immigration officials.

She said that Canadian officials said they would look into the matter. Canadian officials say no policy decisions have been made.

Ms. Sauerbrey said many Iraqis who fled to Syria or Jordan, including women, children, victims of torture and members of the small Christian minority, will never be able to return to Iraq.

"We've encouraged Canada to make this a priority in their resettlement policy, because this is an area of tremendous need and vulnerability," she told reporters. She said she's been told Canada has already accepted 49 such Iraqi refugees.

The Cubans at Guantanamo were plucked from the sea by the U.S. Coast Guard while trying to escape their homeland. Cuba has never ceded sovereignty over Guantanamo, but the United States has kept a naval base there for more than a century under a "perpetual" lease.

Ms. Sauerbrey said most migrants are economic refugees in no danger of political persecution and are routinely returned to Cuba. But the 40 at the naval base, along with a handful of Haitians, are deemed to be legitimate refugees, she said.

"Canada has been very helpful in taking Haitians, but at this point has not taken Cubans. We would welcome Canada's assistance."

Ms. Sauerbrey also said the United States is planning for a new wave of migration when Fidel Castro, the ailing Cuban leader, dies.

"A lot of people may see this as an opportunity to escape. We are laying out a strategy to try to discourage a mass migration, but at the same time we can't guarantee it won't occur."