Recently, B.C. (British Columbia), Canada decided that they will no longer provide legal aid to immigrants and refugees due to lack of funding. Without the funding for legal aid to immigrants and refugees, many immigration specialists believe it will put people at risk of deportation as their cases will not proceed without an immigration lawyer.
British Columbia Won’t Be the “Best Place on Earth” for Thousands
The cancellation of legal aid from the Legal Services Society of B.C. will be effective on August 1st, 2017. The Society will no longer accept applications for immigration and refugee cases because the government funding can not keep up with the increasing pace of refugee claims. Unless the Society receives an additional $1 million in federal funding than people living in Canada as an immigrant or refugee will be forced to represent themselves in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. The Society’s executive director, Mark Benton, said “There will be a real risk to people, and that’s our biggest concern. When we talk about people who come from a different culture, who don’t have a Canadian standard of education, who are likely not to speak any English, and do not have a network of support, [not having a lawyer] puts them at risk of their case not being heard fully and they risk being returned to the country where they face persecution.”
The executive said that the Society is processing an average of 110 cases a month. Almost half of the refugee claims that come through the Society’s office come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey, and about a quarter come from Central and South America.
How the previous system worked was that immigrants and refugees who were eligible for legal assistance were connected with immigration lawyers who were funded by Legal Services Society. Thousands of refugees and immigrants have been able to live their lives in Canada thanks to the legal aid given by the Canadian government. Immigration lawyers now fear that thousands of immigrants and refugees will be left with nothing but deportation. The director of settlement services for the Vancouver-based Immigrant Services Society of B.C., Chris Friesen, said: “Their inability to have legal counsel to help them navigate the complexity of applying for asylum really puts them at a significant disadvantage.”
The Legal Services Society will “continue to provide online materials in multiple languages that help unrepresented clients understand the immigration and refugee hearing process and the steps they have to follow to maintain their claims.”
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