OTTAWA — Fewer asylum seekers who entered Canada illegally this year are being granted refugee status.
As of the end of November, the Immigration and Refugee Board says 16,522 asylum claims were received from people who've crossed the border illegally and 2,198 of those have been completed.
Of those finalized cases, updated data show 54 per cent were accepted — down from 60 per cent when the board last reported the data.
Only eight per cent of Haitians — who make up the majority of claims — have been accepted, down from 10 per cent.
Over 43,000 claims in total have been sent to the IRB so far this year, a number not seen since a high of 44,000 claims in 2001.
The board cautions it's premature to draw conclusions about border crossers based on the small number of claims finalized so far. Failed claimants do also have the right to appeal.
But just as the IRB was releasing the new statistics, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen used social media to repeat a point the Liberals have been increasingly making in recent weeks as the data has shown many border crossers' claims are being rejected.
"Canada's refugee system isn't for those seeking a better economic life; it provides protection to refugees who have a well-founded fear of persecution," Hussen posted.
Prior to a surge in asylum seekers arriving in Canada last summer, the approval rate for Haitians had been around 50 per cent and the approval rate for all refugee claims was about 63 per cent.
The border crosser situation is driven by an agreement between Canada and the U.S. that prohibits anyone crossing the border at official land entry points from claiming asylum. So far this year, 18,000 have been stopped entering Canada illegally — in 2016, only 2,500 people were apprehended.
Many are believed to be coming north due to changes in U.S. immigration policy, though the federal government has said some haven't spent much time in the U.S. and were just using that country as an entry point into Canada.
Neither the IRB's funding nor staffing levels have kept pace with the overall increase in claims; officials told a House of Commons committee earlier this month about one third of the board's positions are vacant.
And that was before chairperson Mario Dion was tapped to fill the job of ethics commissioner, leaving his post empty too.
The IRB's operations are being reviewed by the federal government with final recommendations on what could change due later in 2018.
Something needs to change, said Michelle Rempel, the Opposition immigration critic.
"The way the government is approaching this is it's more about playing for luck rather than doing something that is going to be a long-term policy solution that's in the best interest of people trying to claim asylum in Canada and Canadians in general," she said.
Dion had instituted a number of measures to speed up and simplify the claims process, including a dedicated team to hear so-called legacy cases — claims filed before an overhaul to Canada's asylum system in 2012.
They've whittled down that backlog from over 6,000 when the Liberals took office in 2015 to 4,444 at the end of November.
But backlogs continue to grow in the board's appeal divisions, with thousands of cases still awaiting final decisions. Of those, about 290 are from border crossers.
If a claim ultimately fails, the individual is to be deported, but how many have been removed to date is unclear.
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press