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Failed asylum seekers to be paid up to $2,000 to leave Canada voluntarily

Adopting an approach used in Europe to return thousands of asylum seekers, the federal government has begun a pilot project in the greater Toronto area offering up to $2,000 to failed refugee claimants who agree to leave voluntarily.

"The sooner you decide on a voluntary return, the more reintegration assistance you may be eligible to receive," government information brochures say.

The leave-early-get-more approach was criticized by an immigration lawyer as undercutting the newcomers' right to appeal their rejection by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

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Under the program that was started this week, refugee claimants qualify for the full $2,000 only if they don't seek leave to appeal their IRB rejection to the Federal Court.

Otherwise, they would be eligible for only $1,500, and those who apply after receiving a preremoval-risk-assessment decision, a step before deportation, would qualify for only $1,000 in assistance.

"It essentially amounts to a bribe to give up rights to have your risks assessed," Toronto lawyer Daniel Kingwell said. "There is a certain lack of respect for the process of the Federal Court. ... To essentially bribe someone not to [appeal] is to me disturbing."

The Canada Border Services Agency declined to respond to the criticism. "It is not a practice of the CBSA to comment on third party allegations," spokesman Luc Nadon said in an e-mail.

He said the CBSA is pleased that there is already "positive interest from potential participants," but that it is too early to give exact numbers.

The money will be handed to a Geneva-based agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), that will direct it to local providers for education, vocational training or job placement to resettle the returnees.

The pilot program will run in the greater Toronto area until the end of March, 2015. Officials hope to find up to 6,955 voluntary returns. Applicants would be low-risk individuals, not those found to be criminals or fraudulent claimants.

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The CBSA says the program will save money because claimants otherwise would collect public assistance, and because enforcing a removal order can cost up to $15,000. "A key goal of the ... pilot program is to encourage more timely and sustained returns," Mr. Nadon said.

European countries have used assisted voluntary removals since West Germany first tried them in 1979. The United Kingdom has the highest number of voluntary returnees, with more than 4,000 people leaving each year. Irregular migrants in Britain are offered up to £2,000 per family member for a voluntary return.

Those other nations have also relied on the IOM to help manage voluntary returns. Groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have complained that the IOM was acting as a proxy for government removals and raised questions about whether such actions were indirectly coercive.

Mr. Nadon said applicants who leave Canada voluntarily within 30 days of their removal order can eventually return if found admissible through other programs. But they wouldn't be able to file another refugee claim. And they would have to reimburse the government for the cost of the flight that took them out of Canada.

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