Sunday, May 6, 2007

Refugee backlog has doubled since 2006


Published: Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Canada's backlog of refugee claims almost doubled in the first quarter of 2007 as the Harper government continued to drag its feet on filling vacancies at the Immigration and Refugee Board.

As of March 31, the effective backlog of claims stood at 6,164 - up from 3,495 at the end of 2006.

During the same period, the number of adjudicators available to hear claims actually declined by one while the average length of time to process a claim rose slightly to 12.6 months from 12.3.

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Tories took power more than a year ago, there were only five vacancies on the 119-member, quasi-judicial board. That grew to 18 by last July, to 43 by the end of last year and to 44 today.

The IRB has grappled with backlogs before. Indeed, 2005 was a banner year in which, for the first time in a decade, the backlog was essentially reduced to zero.

But board spokesperson Melissa Anderson said it's "significant" to see the backlog grow by almost 3,000 claims in only three months.

"Our previous backlog took a while to kind of build, really, and it was driven primarily by large, significant increases in new claims," she said.

"Whereas this time, what's quite different is really the number of refugee claimants hasn't gone up very significantly. ... It's being driven this time sort of internally, essentially through the lack of members."

Mike Fraser, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Diane Finley, said 39 adjudicators have been appointed to the IRB since the Tories took office. A new chairperson and vice-chairperson have also been named and the government is "moving forward with a national search for candidates."