No One Is Illegal Fredericton organized a Borderless Solidarities Workshop on May 6 in Fredericton. The NB Media Co-op interviewed one of the participants, Akram Ben Salah, the executive director of the NB Refugee Clinic, to find out what his organization is doing to support refugees settling in New Brunswick.
NBMC: What does the NB Refugee Clinic (NBRC) do? Why is the NBRC important in Moncton? How long has it been around?
Akram Ben Salah: The NBRC offers free legal assistance and representation to persons making applications to stay as refugees or on other types of humanitarian or risk-based grounds, who cannot afford to hire a private lawyer. Our work includes preparing and submitting the claims, performing mock hearings and representation during the actual hearings as well as assistance with work permit applications for asylum seekers and permanent residence applications for all clients whose claims were successful and approved.
The Clinic opened its doors in Moncton to the public on October 17, 2016. Since then, we have been receiving clients on a regular basis.
Before the Clinic opened, there were no organizations in New Brunswick offering free legal assistance. Our clients cannot afford to hire a lawyer and because of that, without our services, they often had to go through the process without proper guidance or representation.
NBMC: What specific refugee and/or immigration policies need to change in Canada?
Akram Ben Salah: The Province of New Brunswick presently does not accept applications under their Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) from persons who have previously made a refugee claim or filed an application for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The result is that we have people in New Brunswick who are employed, supported by their employer, speak English or French and wish to remain in the Province – but cannot even apply to the Province to stay because they previously made a refugee claim that was unsuccessful.
We all know that New Brunswick is working toward the goal of boosting the economy and the population growth through immigration among other strategies, but such barriers are minimizing the target candidates. It would be a win-win situation if this policy is amended, which can easily be done since it only falls under the control of the provincial government control.
NBMC: At the Borderless Solidarities Workshop, you mentioned the ‘deportation papers’ that refugees/newcomers have to sign when they arrive that puts people in danger of deportation. Can you explain?
Akram Ben Salah: The document that refugee claimants are required to sign is called Conditional Departure Order. It is a ‘stand-by’ order to leave Canada. If the claim is rejected or abandoned, this order is activated and the applicant will have to leave Canada voluntarily within the next 30 days. This document is to be signed at the initial eligibility interview where the immigration officer will determine if an person is even allowed to present a refugee claim in Canada. Because of this document, the candidate cannot apply for any other type of immigration programs.
NBMC: Why do you think it is important to support sanctuary cities?
Akram Ben Salah: We believe that it is important for individuals and families to be able to access services from municipal and provincial governments without fear of reprisals due to their immigration status. The scope of the impact of the status of “sanctuary city” will depend upon the types of services that the particular municipality provides. For example, a city with a municipal police force that declares itself a sanctuary city would have an important impact as it would help to permit all people living in the municipality to rely upon policing services without fear of reprisals due to their immigration status. The declaration of status as a “sanctuary city” also carries symbolic importance as it sends the message that the municipality and its residents support equal access to services for all residents, regardless of their immigration situation.