UNHCR trains Canadian officials dealing with refugees

News Stories, 4 February 2009

© UNHCR/R.Khan
Participants in one of the training courses.

TORONTO, Canada, February 4 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency recently trained employees of two Canadian government agencies in Toronto on refugee protection to ensure that asylum needs are not overwhelmed by the larger migration issues.

As part of the training, which is offered year-round across the country, UNHCR provided two sessions to some 30 staff of the Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) Etobicoke office and the Refugee Eligibility and Admissibility Unit of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) at Pearson International Airport.

"We view these opportunities to share information as a service and an investment," said UNHCR Senior Protection Officer Hy Shelow, who facilitated the sessions last month. "Canada is an important protection partner for UNHCR, including globally, and it is crucial that officers who are responsible for access to territory and to procedures also have a larger view of the procedures and what they mean to people.

"At a macro level the strong focus in Canada on protection of human rights and of refugees resonates around the globe," said Shelow. "And at the front end of the processes that assure this protection, CIC and CBSA staff are frequently the first representatives of Canada that those in need meet. The ongoing dedication to helping others is fundamental."

Karen Thompson at Etobicoke CIC said many staff had found the UNHCR training "an eye-opening experience," placing refugee protection in the context of the worldwide situation. "We believe that such training gives our staff a renewed sense of purpose and dedication for their work."

The training at Toronto's international airport was directed at the new CBSA unit established last December, which assesses admissibility to Canada and eligibility to go before the Immigration and Refugee Board. Asylum seekers receive a streamlined refugee intake examination, with appointments scheduled for within three days of their arrival in Canada.

"We are happy to see that such a unit has been established in line with UNHCR's recommendations," said Abraham Abraham, UNHCR's representative in Canada. "We hope to continue working closely with CBSA, contributing to the special skills base for officers working with asylum seekers at ports of entry."

In addition, the training increases government counterparts' awareness of the role of UNHCR in areas like monitoring and intervention, building closer working relationships and demonstrating the value of UNHCR.

"It is our most sincere hope that we can provide an improved service to those asylum seekers arriving at Pearson International Airport," said Abeid Morgan, chief of operations with Pearson's CBSA. "We will continually monitor the effectiveness of this programme, making adjustments as needed. We are appreciative of the continued support provided by the UNHCR."

By Gisèle Nyembwe in Toronto, Canada