KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Two New Democratic Party (NDP) Members of Parliament say they have written letter of recommendations for Vincentians seeking asylum in Canada based on economic and personal security reason.
The announcement by Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace and MP for Central Kingstown St. Clair Leacock yesterday came as Vincentian discuss the fallout from a damning article in a Canadian newspaper about the number of Vincentians applying for asylum in that country.
According to the Toronto Star, last year, 710 Vincentians sought asylum in Canada, up from 179 in 2001 — 4,500 in the last decade –, placing this nations among the top ten from which refugee claims to Canada are made.
“I, as a representative of East Kingstown, and … as a Parliamentary representative, there is a hardly a week that I am not approached by somebody on the state of the economy so they can use that in their backup for refugee status in Canada,” Eustace said at an NDP press conference yesterday.
He said he further said that he would have to know some one “really well” to write such letters if they are victims of abuse.
“I, also, want to emphasise that as a representative of Central Kingstown, where we have had a lot of gang related activity and more than our fair share of deaths in such activities, I, too, have been approached on a number of occasions for people who have been seeking refugee status,” Leacock said at the same press conference.
Eustace, however, said that he knows a lot of persons applying for asylum in Canada do not have legitimate claims
“But I also know that a lot of them are speaking the truth about the conditions they face here in St. Vincent and why they want to go away,” he said.
He said that while the government says that it is working to improve the economy, there has been three years of economic decline, with the possibility of a fourth this year.
Eustace read from the Toronto Star sections in which the writer says over the last ten years, 4.3 per cent of this country’s population fled Canada, and, last year, ranked 8th in the world for refugee claims to Canada — surpassing India and Pakistan, which has a population of 1.2 billion and 187 million, respectively.
“What does this picture tell you? Why are people leaving? Why are they really leaving St. Vincent and the Grenadines in these kinds of numbers? Why? There has to be an answer to that,” Eustace said.
“Something has to be wrong in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he further stated and noted that the majority of refugee applicants are abused women.
“And these are things you have to think about. Why are these people leaving? They are leaving because things good here? … They must have a reason why they are leaving. And whether their claims are valid or not, the fact is, they are leaving, and that is what we have to address,” he further sated.
Eustace further noted that, according to the article, Steve Phillips, this country’s consul general in Canada, said that unscrupulous lawyers were encouraging Vincentians to apply for asylum.
“We have to look at our society, decide what is wrong, why people want to leave and see what you can do about it so that they don’t have to leave — at least not at those levels,” Eustace said.
“But that is a reality. And we can’t hide from it by blaming lawyers in Canada … We have economic circumstances here, which are causing people to leave also.
“We have persons, women, in particular, who are in fact abuse and who want to leave for that reason,” Eustace further stated.
He said that a conference in Jamaica recently heard that this country had the highest percentage of rapes and abuse of women in the OECS.
“These are not things to be proud of, but they are happening. And you can’t separate that from people leaving the country, although some of them will have bogus claims. So, it is not enough to just dismiss it. We must examine the root causes and see what we can do here to deal with it,” Eustace said.
Meanwhile, Leacock, who is also vice-president of the NDP, said that he has met in that capacity with representatives from the Canadian High Commission during courtesy calls to the NDP.
“And I expressly recall drawing to the attention of the representatives of Canada that in St. Vincent and the Grenadines we had unique cases of people applying for refugee status,” he said.
“In fact, I made available to the representatives then, copy of letters of … young people who were involved in gang-related activities and whose lives had been threatened.
“I had documentary evidence and I made that in furtherance of claims that may come to Canada from time to time,” Leacock stated.
“Let me be bold and empathic: I have assisted young men of Central Kingstown, to leave the state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines because their lives were threatened.
“That can’t be disputed, it is supported in evidence before the court and I have on occasions … drawn the attention of the Canadian immigration … the gang-related activities, the life-threatening activities, where it may not have been in the best interest of such persons to return to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and those instances can be born out by evidence inside and outside of the court,” Leacock further stated.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, while acknowledging that some Vincentians women are abused, on Sunday urged citizens to stop making bogus claims for asylum in Canada. He said such bogus claims could cause Canada to require visas for Vincentians wanting to travel to that country.