Faculty Author Type

Current Faculty [Efrat Arbel]

Document Type

Commissioned Report or Study

Publication Date



Refugee Law; Safe Third Country Agreement; Canada-U.S. Border; Harvard Immigration and Refugee Law Clinical Program


In June 2012, the Canadian government ushered in sweeping reforms to Canada’s refugee system. These reforms brought debates about Canadian refugee protection to the forefront of legal and political discourse. In advancing these reforms, the Canadian government has asserted that Canada’s refugee system is among the most generous and compassionate in the world. Canada’s doors, the Canadian government has stated, remain open to legitimate refugees. This report evaluates these claims by examining the U.S.-Canada Safe Third Country Agreement and border measures implemented under the rubric of the Multiple Borders Strategy, and analyzing their effects on asylum seekers. A detailed examination of these measures is necessary to evaluate the generosity of Canada’s refugee system, and to accurately frame debates about Canadian refugee protection. This report concludes that through the Safe Third Country Agreement and the Multiple Borders Strategy, Canada is systematically closing its borders to asylum seekers, and circumventing its refugee protection obligations under domestic and international law. While Canada has a valid interest in regulating its borders to ensure refugee protection is reserved only for genuine refugees, neither the Safe Third Country Agreement nor the Multiple Borders Strategy effectively serve this interest. Instead, these measures deter, deflect, and block asylum seekers from lawfully making refugee claims in Canada in arbitrary and unprincipled ways, and do not effectively serve the goal of protecting the integrity of the Canada-U.S. border. Examining these measures, this report finds: 1. Canada is systematically closing its borders to asylum seekers and avoiding its refugee protection obligations under domestic and international law; 2. Through the Safe Third Country Agreement, Canada jeopardizes asylum seekers’ ability to obtain fundamental legal protections by returning them to the United States despite clear deficiencies in the U.S. asylum system; 3. The Safe Third Country Agreement has prompted a rise in human smuggling across the Canada-U.S. border, making the border more dangerous and disorderly, and raising security concerns for Canada and the United States.



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