Montreal, Canada – The indefinite nature of the Canadian immigration detention system is causing psychological damage to thousands of detainees each year, including refugee claimants, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported on Thursday.
The report, titled “Immigration Detention in Canada and Its Impact on Mental Health,” says immigration detainees are handcuffed, tied up, and held in detention, among other harsh conditions.
But not knowing when they will be released, as Canada has no limit on how long someone can be detained for immigration, mostly worsens the psychological effect of their detention, advocacy groups said.
“Canada is proud to welcome refugees and newcomers with open arms, even though it is one of the few countries in the global north where people seeking security are locked up indefinitely,” said Samer Muscati, associate director of Disability Rights to Human Rights Watch a statement accompanying the report.
“This leaves many without the certainty (or even hope) of knowing when they will be free again, which can have a devastating impact on their mental health.”
Detention for immigration
Canada detains thousands of immigrants each year.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), which enforces Canada’s immigration laws, can detain someone if it believes it poses a security threat or will not appear in immigration proceedings, among other reasons. However, the CBSA should consider alternatives to detention.
There are three immigration detention centers in Canada – in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia – but immigration detainees can also be transferred to provincial prisons under specific circumstances.
The report found that the number of detainees for immigration steadily increased between 2016 and 2020, reaching a maximum of 8,825 people detained for immigration during fiscal year 2019-2020.
Canadian authorities released people “at unprecedented rates” during the coronavirus pandemic, which according to Amnesty International and HRW investigators indicate alternatives to detention exist.
The CBSA told Al Jazeera in an email that 62 detainees were being held in immigration detention centers in Canada as of June 14, while another 97 immigration detainees were being held in provincial prisons.
The releases came amid national pressure to release detainees to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 inside detention centers. For example, detainees at an immigration concentration center north of Montreal, Quebec, went on a hunger strike last year, fearing they would contract the virus inside the facility.
“Here, in the detention center, we are in a small space, every day we see the arrival of people, immigrants, from everywhere, who have not had any medical appointment or any test to determine if they are possible carriers of the virus.” , detained he wrote in a March 2020 letter to federal government ministers, shared by immigrant rights advocates.
“There is also the presence of security personnel who are in contact with the outside world every day and who have not performed any tests. For these reasons, we are writing this petition to demand freedom. “
In an email to Al Jazeera, CBSA spokeswoman Judith Gadbois-St-Cyr said the agency would review the findings and recommendations of Thursday’s report.
“We can tell you that the CBSA is committed to maintaining the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the relevant international standards set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Agency is committed to ensuring dignified and humane treatment of all people detained under immigration law, ”Gadbois-St-Cyr said.
He added that “detention is the last resort and alternatives to detention are always considered.”
“The CBSA works to ensure that it exercises responsibility for detentions to the highest possible standards, with the physical and mental health and well-being of detainees, as well as the safety and security of Canadians as key considerations.”
But Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, urged the government to end the detention for immigration.
“Canada’s abusive immigration detention system contrasts with the rich diversity and values of equality and justice by which Canada is known globally,” it said in the statement accompanying Thursday’s report.
“There should be no place in Canada for racism, cruelty and human rights violations against people who come to this country in search of security and a better life,” he added.
Since 2016, more than 300 immigration detainees have been detained for more than a year in Canada, according to the report.
Investigators said not knowing when they would be released has caused “trauma, anxiety and a sense of helplessness” for detainees, in addition to aggravating existing mental health problems, which has led to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. .
“Many immigration detainees develop suicidal thoughts as they begin to lose hope, especially those fleeing traumatic experiences and persecutions in search of security and protection in Canada. Immigration detention has especially detrimental effects on communities of color, refugees, children and families, ”the report says.
“With a criminal sentence, your release date is the only thing you have to keep,” an immigration detainee who was detained last year in a provincial prison in Ontario on condition of death told investigators ‘anonymity.
“When you don’t have that, you just exhale … The unknown thing about immigration detention is mental cruelty, torture. It is beyond a violation of human rights. “