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Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Thursday November 29, 2012.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Major elements of an overhaul to Canada's refugee system go into effect on Dec. 15, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Friday.

The biggest change will see the government create a list of countries from which refugee claims will be scrutinized more closely.

The first designated country of origin list will also be released on Dec. 15 and will include countries which produce large numbers of rejected asylum claims.

Would-be refugees from those countries will have their claims heard within 30 to 45 days and they will lose the ability to appeal a negative decision at the newly-created refugee appeal division.

They will also be removed from Canada faster.

"We believe that the new system... will substantially reduce the attractiveness of making unfounded claims and will therefore allow us to focus our resources more on the bona fide refugees who actually do need our protection," Mr. Kenney said.

Refugee claimants who are not from the designated countries will see their claims heard within 60 days and will have access to a newly enacted appeal division should the Immigration and Refugee Board reject their claim.

All failed claimants will still have access to the Federal Court to appeal the decision but won't get an automatic stay of deportation.

While refugee advocates have said the system was in need of change, they've decried some of the amendments as undermining Canada's humanitarian traditions.

A coalition of groups argued new deadlines created for refugee claims to submit required paperwork are too short for people to get the right advice on how to prove their case.

And they said the laws also vest too much power in the minister, including the ability to take away a refugee's permanent resident status.

The new law gives the minister the ability to apply to the Immigration and Refugee Board to determine whether a person is not longer in need of protection.

That section had to be amended when it was pointed out it could apply in cases where the situation in a refugee's home country had changed years after they arrived in Canada.

The changes coming into affect in December are part of two pieces of legislation passed by the government over the last two years.

Mr. Kenney said there are signs the reforms are doing what the government hoped: make Canada a less attractive place for people seeking to take advantage and easier to get to for those who have a legitimate reason to be here.

He said security intelligence suggests at least four boats bound for Canada filled with smuggled refugees from Southeast Asia and Africa have been interrupted because of Canada's attempt to crack down on human smuggling.

Meanwhile, he said there's been a 90 per cent reduction in asylum claims filed by Hungarian nationals since July, which he suggested was connected to changes being made that month to the health care benefits given to refugee claimants.

Hungary is the top source country for refugee claims and is expected to make the designated country of origin list.