"The federal government's incentive program offers as much as $2,000 and a one-way plane ticket to failed refugees willing to go home voluntarily.
A year after Ottawa launched a controversial program to pay money to failed refugee claimants for leaving Canada, more than 2,000 people have taken up the offer.
As of June, some 2,157 failed refugees had participated in the federal government's Assisted Voluntary Returns and Reintegration pilot program, which offers as much as $2,000 and a one-way plane ticket to any refugee claimant denied asylum who will voluntarily go home.
The average time it takes between the registration in the program and the person's departure date to their home country is 32 days. The five top countries to which participants returned were Hungary, Colombia, Mexico, Croatia and the Czech Republic.
"The pilot is viewed as a positive initiative from key non-governmental organization stakeholders," said Canada Border Services Agency spokeswoman Esme Bailey in an email last week.
The program, only available in the Toronto region, offers participants assistance from the International Organization for Migration to help with planning their return.
This includes help obtaining travel documents and booking plane tickets. Returnees also receive advice on developing a personal plan to help them reintegrate into their home country upon return.
While they may not receive the full $2,000 bonus, returnees, through a dispensing system at a local partner agency, can use the money to start a small business or go back to school.
According to the border agency, so far 38 per cent of the money has been spent on temporary accommodation and housing and 35 per cent on "material assistance," such as purchases of daily necessities.
Eleven per cent of the funds have been used to open businesses, and 5 per cent has been dedicated to education. About 1 per cent of the money has been spent of medical needs.
"For people who are going to return home rather than being shuffled out and dropped at the airport, it makes their return easier with the support," said Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees.
The program did have some hiccups in its first year, Dench said. In one incident, a returnee did not receive the support promised from the local agency, though that was later fixed by border officials.
Bailey said the three-year pilot will run until 2015, with a target of 6,955 voluntary returns.
The program has strict eligibility criteria. Those whose claims were deemed to have had no credible basis or have been withdrawn or abandoned are not qualified. Neither are those claimants with criminal records or considered inadmissible to Canada due to national security or human rights violations.
The program will be reviewed during its final year to decide if it is cost-effective and efficient. It's expected to be renewed".
Published by Nicholas Keung Immigration reporter.