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Thousands of refugee cases suspended due to border agency delays

Hafiz Fiaz Ahmad left behind his family and fled repeated threats from religious extremists in Pakistan to seek asylum in Canada in March.The 37-year-old native of Lahore was quickly scheduled for a refugee hearing on June 21. However, a week before the proceedings, he received a letter from the Immigration and Refugee Board informing him that his hearing was cancelled because his security clearance by border officials was still pending.“I was prepared. My lawyer was prepared. I couldn’t wait to tell my story to a refugee judge,” said Ahmad, who said he was targeted by religious fanatics for his secular views.“My wife, two boys and daughter are still back home. I’m safe here but they are not. I just feel depressed not knowing even when I will have my day (of hearing).”Despite law that requires all refugee hearings to be heard within 60 days once a claim is initially deemed eligible by an immigration officer, more and more asylum hearings like Ahmad’s have been suspended indefinitely because of delays at the Canada Border Services Agency in issuing clearances of what is known as front-end security screening.Article Continued BelowAccording to the refugee board, only 46 per cent of asylum claims were heard within the statutory timeline in April, far below the 84 per cent mark two years ago.Failures to observe the scheduling timelines are caused by delays in security clearances, operational limitations or unavailability of interpreters or counsel. However, the proportion of hearing cancellations due to delays in obtaining a security clearance has ballooned from just 6 per cent two years ago to a peak of 55 per cent in December, meaning more than half of cancelled hearings were due to border officials’ inability to meet timelines for assessing if a claimant poses threats to Canada due to criminal or security concerns.

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