The Federal Court of Canada has ruled that an asylum agreement the country has made with the United States is invalid because America violates the human rights of refugees.
The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), in effect since 2004, requires asylum seekers to seek protection in the first safe country they reach.
But on Wednesday, a judge declared the deal unconstitutional due to the possibility of the United States jailing the migrants.
The move marks a major victory for Canadian immigration activists.
Lawyers for refugees who had been turned back at the Canadian border had challenged the deal, arguing that the United States was not considered “safe” for asylum seekers.
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Nedira Jemal Mustefa, one of the refugees forced to stay in the United States, told the court that her stay in US solitary confinement was “a terrifying, isolating and psychologically traumatic experience,” according to the court ruling.
“We know all too well the treatment the United States gives to asylum seekers,” Maureen Silcoff, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, told Reuters news agency.
The 5,525-mile (8,891 km) Canada-US border is the longest border between two countries in the world.
What is the Safe Third Country Agreement?
The Safe Third Country Agreement is a policy implemented to better manage refugee claims and to avoid so-called “asylum purchases” between countries.
But it also pushes asylum seekers to make what the Canadian government calls “irregular” crossings to avoid being turned back at official border posts.
Since 2017, when President Donald Trump took office promising an immigration crackdown, some 58,000 people have entered Canada from the United States in this way to make a subsequent refugee claim.
Canada had processed their claims until the coronavirus pandemic, when the Canadian government announced they would be turned away.
There have been calls in Canada to suspend or renegotiate the agreement with the United States.
What did the judge say?
Federal Court Judge Ann Marie McDonald ruled that the deal violated a section of the Canadian Charter of Rights that prohibits the government from interfering with the right to life, liberty and security.
“It is my conclusion, based on the evidence, that non-eligible STCA claimants are returned to the United States by Canadian officials where they are immediately and automatically jailed by US authorities,” Justice McDonald said in her decision.