One year after border closure, Canada continues violating refugee rights

One year after enacting a measure to ban refugee claimants from crossing into Canada from the US in response to COVID-19, Amnesty International is disappointed that Canada continues to violate its international legal obligations by successively renewing anti-refugee measures. Canada’s Order in Council adopting the measure is contrary to the international obligation of non-refoulement, which prohibits states from transferring individuals to a place where they would be at real risk of serious human rights violations.

On March 20, 2020, Canada adopted a general ban on entering Canada from the United States for the purpose of seeking asylum. The federal government subsequently introduced some limited exceptions to the general ban, including for US citizens, stateless persons and minor refugee claimants. In October 2020, Canada opened the border to broad categories of citizens, permanent residents, students, workers, and professional athletes, but continued to exclude refugee claimants entering from the US – a policy that remains in place to date.

“There is no justification for Canada continuing to violate its international legal obligations to refugee claimants by turning them away,” said Justin Mohammed, Human Rights Law and Policy Campaigner at Amnesty International Canada. “Almost six months after Canada opened the border to broad categories of other travellers, the government has given no explanation why refugee claimants cannot be treated like everyone else. Refugee travel is, by definition, essential.”

According to media reports, there are at least eight cases of people who have been subjected to the border ban and who were detained upon return to the USA, and at least one person has been subsequently deported from the US by American authorities.  

The border measure has been renewed 16 times, without parliamentary oversight. The most recent version of the Order in Council is valid until March 21, 2021. According to official guidance authored by the UNHCR, “denial of access to territory without safeguards to protect against refoulement cannot be justified on the grounds of any health risk.”

Media contact: Lucy Scholey, Media Relations Officer, Amnesty International Canada (English branch), 613-853-2142,