Under the Government's Balanced Refugee Reform initiative, Canada is implementing a new refugee status determination system that is intended to deliver faster decisions on refugee claims, deter abuse of the system and quickly remove persons not in need of Canada's protection.
As part of the reformed system, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), together with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), introduced an Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) pilot program in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) on June 29, 2012. This pilot complements the CBSA's overall removals program by assisting eligible unsuccessful refugee claimants who wish to voluntarily return to their home country and by providing a cost-effective alternative to an enforced removal.
Currently, many failed refugee claimants do not respect their obligation to leave Canada, which leads to deportation, costly enforced removals by the CBSA and a permanent bar on returning to Canada. Often this happens because people are unaware of the consequences of failing to comply with removal orders or simply do not have the means to leave or to support themselves when they return to their home countries.
The AVRR pilot aims to encourage timely voluntary returns by providing failed refugee claimants, with an alternative to enforced removal after a final negative decision on their refugee claim. It further allows failed refugee claimants who are eligible to participate in the program to return to their home countries with greater support, and anonymity.
Similar programs in a number of countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia, have proven successful in reintegrating people into their home countries. They have also shown that voluntary return programs can present a compelling, cost‑effective alternative to enforced removals. Failed refugee claimants who have sustainable, secure lives in their home countries are less likely to want to leave their country.
Consult the CBSA's Web page on Balanced Refugee Reform for more information on the AVRR pilot program.
To participate in the AVRR pilot program, unsuccessful refugee claimants must meet a stringent set of eligibility criteria. The program is intended to assist those who are cooperative and genuinely wish to voluntarily return home. It is not open to criminals, individuals who have been determined by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) to have made an unfounded (fraudulent or non-credible) claim, or those who have not cooperated with the removals process.
Once the CBSA determines that a person is eligible to participate in the AVRR pilot, the Agency refers the person to the IOM, an independent UN-affiliated organization, which provides assistance and advice to help them to leave Canada. Participants will receive information on the process of returning, support in acquiring travel documents and developing a realistic, sustainable plan for their successful reintegration into society upon their return, as well as provisions for a plane ticket home if required.
Upon the participant's return, the local office of the service partner in the person's country of origin will manage and administer assistance in-kind up to a maximum of CAN$2,000 a person to implement the participant's reintegration plan.
Assistance is conditional on the approval of a realistic reintegration plan that takes into account economic and social circumstances in participants' home countries. The goal is to help the participant build a livelihood and restore family and community linkages, thereby discouraging a return to Canada.
This pilot will allow the CBSA to make better use of its enforcement resources and provides a cost-effective alternative to forced removals of individuals.
By redirecting some 6,955 low-risk cases toward a service partner, the CBSA will be able to devote more resources towards more serious and higher priority removal cases, including those involving serious criminality and crimes against humanity.
Compared to other countries, the pilot program in Canada is offering a modest amount of reintegration assistance.
The AVRR pilot program will help maintain the integrity of Canada's immigration and refugee system by supporting more timely and cost-effective removals of those who have been found not to require protection and who no longer have a right to stay in Canada. The program will do so in a manner that both respects the dignity and anonymity of the person, and provides a means for sustainable reintegration in the individual's home country.
Costs for assisted voluntary returns are expected to be significantly lower than enforced removals, which can cost up to $15,000 a person, even in low-risk cases. Refugee claimants also have access to social assistance and health benefits from the time they enter Canada. The AVRR program will expedite the removals process for low-risk cases, which means that unsuccessful claimants will spend less time in Canada receiving social and health benefits.
The AVRR pilot can also serve as a form of development aid to the country and community concerned. The country of origin benefits when an individual returns with the means to sustain himself or herself without resorting to further displacement.
The CBSA has developed stringent eligibility criteria and will closely monitor and control all program expenses and activities to ensure the pilot program is implemented as effectively and efficiently as possible. The Agency will conduct a program evaluation of the pilot program during its final year to determine its overall effectiveness.
The CBSA has consulted immigration stakeholder groups to ensure the in-kind assistance (up to a maximum of CAN$2,000) will not encourage more fraudulent refugee claims seeking to benefit from the pilot. In comparison with the significant costs refugee claimants often incur to travel to Canada from overseas, the modest in-kind assistance under the AVRR pilot does not present a significant draw for unfounded claims.
Finally, it should be stressed that those individuals who have been found by the IRB to have made fraudulent or non-credible claims will not be eligible to participate in the AVRR pilot program.