Conference on AIDS in Montreal | More than 250 participants applied for refugee status

(OTTAWA) Nearly one in six people who attended a major AIDS conference in Montreal last year claimed refugee status after the event, according to internal documents obtained by The Canadian Press.

The documents also highlight the fact that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada struggled to work with the event’s organizer, the International AIDS Society, to avoid a massive visa denial.

When the conference began last July in the metropolis, dozens of delegates from Africa and Asia had had their visas refused or had never received an answer to their request. On stage at the Palais des Congrès, speakers went so far as to accuse Ottawa of racism, even saying that international gatherings should no longer be held in Canada.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act show that 1,020 visa applications for the conference were rejected, or 36% of them. Another 10% had still not been processed at the end of the event.

Canada eventually issued 1,638 visas for the conference. The documents reveal that at least 251 people, or about 15% of the participants, claimed asylum after entering Canada.

According to Robert Blanshay, a Toronto lawyer specializing in immigration matters, conventions or sporting events are one of the few occasions that allow persecuted people to come to Canada safely.

“I am not at all surprised that there were some participants who decided not to return home and instead applied for refugee status,” he said.

“Good for them. If that was their only way to seek asylum in another country, then so be it. »

Complex process

In an interview, Mr.e Blanshay recalled that it is not always easy to obtain a temporary visa or refugee status to come to Canada.

Visa applications are often refused if an applicant does not clearly demonstrate that they have reasons to return to their country of origin after their stay on Canadian soil, such as stable employment, financial savings and family ties.

In view of the AIDS conference, Ottawa has also rejected 83.5% of visa applications from Nepal, 55.8% of those from Nigeria, 53.6% of those from Pakistan and more than 40% of those from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Ghana.

In an internal report written last November to assess the Department of Immigration’s handling of the conference, it said that the visa situation “highlighted the need for better coordination in view of major events, ensuring that all stakeholders are involved from the start and that they remain in constant and detailed communication”.

The report concluded that there had been some shortcomings in the department’s management, including a computer system problem that made it difficult for some applicants to include the event code used to place event attendees in a database.

shared fault

The internal report, however, placed much of the blame on the organizers of the event. The Canadian Press attempted to get feedback from the International AIDS Society, but did not get a response before publishing.

Six weeks before the conference, the document says, organizers provided a list of 6,609 attendees but failed to include crucial information to identify their visa applications, including dates of birth and case numbers.

About two weeks later, the Immigration Department asked to receive a list of priority dignitaries, to which the organizers responded with a list of 4,200 names.

Eventually, the department was able to secure a shortlist of 150 priority participants.

“Organizers continually questioned the denials, requesting detailed information on each case,” the report said.

Meanwhile, even though a deadline for applications had been set two weeks before the start of the event, the ministry continued to receive new applications a few days before the conference.

Ultimately, according to the report, ministry teams were hampered by an increase in the number of special events and “various other processing priorities.” Its authors suggested that the ministry create a team specifically dedicated to special events.

For its part, the ministry has promised to insist that the organizers provide more complete guest lists, with visa application numbers, two months before the congresses.

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