Montreal, Canada- Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a new report on Thursday that the indefinite nature of Canada’s immigration detention system causes psychological harm to thousands of detainees, including refugee claimants, each year.
The report, entitled “Immigration Detention in Canada and Its Impact on Mental Health,” stated that immigrant detainees were handcuffed, shackled and subjected to harsh conditions such as solitary confinement.
But it is not known when they will be released, because Canada has no restrictions on the time of immigration detention, especially the psychological impact of their detention is worsening, the rights group said.
“Canada prides itself on welcoming refugees and new immigrants with open arms, even though it is one of the few countries in the world where people seeking security risks are held indefinitely,” Human Rights Watch Deputy Director of Disability Rights Summer Moose Said Katie (Samer Muscati). The statement attached to the report.
“This leaves many people unable to be sure-or even hopeless-to know when they will be free again, which will have a devastating effect on their mental health.”
Canada detains thousands of immigrants every year.
The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), which enforces Canadian immigration laws, can detain someone if they believe that someone poses a security threat or will not appear in the immigration process, among other reasons. However, the CBSA must consider alternatives to detention.
There are three immigration detention centers in Canada — in Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia — but immigrant detainees can also be transferred to provincial prisons under certain circumstances.
The report found that the number of immigrant detainees rose steadily from 2016 to 2020, and the number of immigrant detainees reached a peak of 8,825 in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Canadian authorities released people “at an unprecedented rate” during the coronavirus pandemic, and researchers from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said this suggests that there are alternatives to detention.
CBSA told Al Jazeera in an email that as of June 14, 62 detainees were held in Canadian immigration detention centers, and another 97 immigrant detainees were held in provincial correctional facilities.
The release is a time when detainees are released across the country to prevent the pressure of the outbreak of COVID-19 in detention centers. For example, detainees in an immigration detention center north of Montreal, Quebec, started hunger strike last year because they feared they might catch the virus in the facility.
“In the detention center, we are in a confined space. Every day we see people and immigrants coming from all over the world. They do not make medical appointments and do not conduct any tests to determine whether they are potential carriers of the virus. Detainee wrote In a letter to the federal government minister in March 2020, immigrant rights advocates shared the letter.
“There are also security guards present. They are in contact with the outside world every day and have not undergone any tests. For these reasons, we are writing this petition requesting release.”
CBSA spokesperson Judith Gadbois-St-Cyr said in an email to Al Jazeera that the agency will review the findings and recommendations in the Thursday report.
“We can tell you that CBSA is committed to upholding the relevant international standards set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The agency is committed to ensuring that all persons detained under immigration legislation are treated with dignity and humaneness. ,” Gadbois-St-Cyr said.
She added that “detention is the last resort, and alternatives to detention are always considered”.
“CBSA is committed to ensuring that detention is held accountable to the highest possible standards, and the physical and mental health and well-being of detainees, as well as the safety and security of Canadians, are the primary considerations.”
But Katie Niviabandi, Secretary-General of Amnesty International Canada, urged the government to gradually end immigration detention.
“Canada’s abusive immigration detention system is in stark contrast to Canada’s global reputation for its rich diversity and values of equality and justice,” she said in a statement to the report on Thursday.
She added: “Canada should not have racism, cruelty and human rights violations against people who come to this country in search of safety and a better life.”
The report found that since 2016, more than 300 immigration detainees have been detained in Canada for more than a year.
Researchers said that not knowing when they will be released has caused “trauma, pain and powerlessness” to the detainees, and exacerbated existing mental health problems, leading to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
“Many immigrant detainees have thoughts of suicide when they begin to lose hope, especially those who have escaped traumatic experiences and persecution in order to seek safety and protection in Canada. Immigration detention is especially important for communities of color, refugee applicants, children and families. Harmful,” the report read.
“Criminal sentence, your release date, this is one thing you insist on,” the immigrant detainee who was held in a provincial prison in Ontario last year told researchers on condition of anonymity.
“When you don’t have that, you will only spiral upward… The unknown in immigration detention is mental cruelty and torture. This is beyond the scope of human rights violations.”