Back to Top

Busting Myths About the Safe Third Country Agreement

The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) has been receiving increased attention as Canada recently announced additional protocol that came into effect on March 25, creating significant barriers to those seeking asylum in Canada. The STCA is an agreement between Canada and the US that was implemented in 2004. The agreement between the two countries recognizes each other as a safe country and stipulates that asylum seekers must make their refugee claim in the first safe country they arrive in. 

Advocates, including the organization Citizens for Public Justice, have long been decrying the agreement as a violation of human rights and drawing attention to the impacts that it has on asylum seekers. For example, the STCA disproportionately impacts those fleeing Gender-Based Violence. The agreement has also been challenged on its constitutionality in Canada. The legal case was heard at the Supreme Court in October 2022 and is awaiting the ruling.

This article responds to common misconceptions around the agreement, and elaborates on its impacts on asylum seekers. 

Myth #1: Those who cross the border at unofficial ports of entry are crossing illegally.  

Fact: Seeking asylum from persecution is a fundamental human right included in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, Canada is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, committing itself to honour that right. Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act also states that individuals should not be penalized for breaking immigration laws to enter a country with the purpose of seeking asylum. This is because it is often not safe or feasible to obtain the proper travel documents and authorization prior to arrival, especially in emergency situations. Use of terms such as “illegal” criminalizes those who are seeking safety and fleeing for their lives.  

Myth #2: Asylum seekers crossing the border at unofficial ports of entry are asylum-shopping.

Fact: People fleeing for their lives want to make their claim in a country that gives them the best chance at being granted safety and protection. Asylum seekers often face significant barriers to accessing asylum in the US and Mexico. Both the US and Mexico have incredibly high refoulement rates, deporting asylum seekers back to the very danger they were fleeing. For example, while Salvadorans have asylum recognition rates up to seventy-five percent in other Central American nations, and 36.5 percent in Mexico, the US recognized only 18.2 percent of Salvadorans as qualifying for asylum from 2014 to 2018. The US and Mexico also routinely place asylum seekers in detention, often in conditions that violate the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Myth #3: Asylum seekers crossing the border at unofficial ports of entry are “queue-jumping.”

Fact: Refugee claimants are processed through a different process and under different criteria than economic and family class migrants, and refugees resettled through the refugee sponsorship programs (PRS, GAR, and BVOR). Furthermore, there is no prioritization based on mode of arrival; all refugee claimants whether making a claim at an official or unofficial port of entry, are processed on a first-come-first-serve basis by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

Myth #4: Those who cross the border at unofficial ports of entry get to stay freely without going through formal processes.

Fact: All asylum seekers, regardless of their mode of arrival, must make a refugee claim and go through rigorous security screening. Refugee claims are assessed by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada to determine if there is a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country. If this fear is not well-founded and backed with significant evidence, or if the persecution cannot be connected to the grounds identified in the 1951 Refugee Convention, the claim is rejected and the individual will be required to leave Canada. 

Myth #5: The US is a safe country for all asylum seekers

Fact: There are significant differences between Canadian and US policies. For example, the US does not have strong protection mechanisms for refugees fleeing gender-based violence, an area that is further developed in Canadian refugee policies.  This can have a significant impact on the safety of people seeking asylum. Additionally, evidence shows rampant abuse and neglect in US detention centres.

Myth #6: There are exceptions to the STCA that suffice for those who need protection in Canada.

Fact: While the STCA has exceptions, they are very limited. Exceptions are only made for those who have family members already in Canada, unaccompanied minors who do not have a parent or guardian in either Canada or the US, those who hold valid Canadian visas, or those who have been convicted of a crime that would subject them to the death penalty in the US or a third country (in which case they would likely be deemed inadmissible anyways on the grounds of security and criminality).

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.