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Safe Third Country Agreement to Limit Refugee Applications

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Refugee claimants in the U.S. will have limited time to seek asylum in Canada before a controversial agreement comes into effect requiring them to seek a safe haven in the first country they reach.

The move could decrease the number of refugee claims in Canada by as much as one-third, and has already prompted anxiety at refugee shelters in Buffalo, N.Y., and at other locations along the U.S.-Canada border.

The regulation, known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, was announced in December, 2001, by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and then-deputy prime minister John Manley, as part of the “smart border” plan drafted in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

However, while Canada passed its regulations in October, 2002, the U.S. stalled until yesterday when officials in Washington finally followed suit.

“The agreement will be implemented after the public has had an opportunity to comment on the proposed rule over the next (months), the comments are reviewed . . . and the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice each issue an interim or final rule,” Eduardo Aguirre, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said yesterday.

“The agreement will enhance the orderly handling of refugee claims and reflect our humanitarian tradition, but also signals that we are dealing harshly with those who would abuse our generosity,” said Jean-Pierre Morin, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.