They arrived at Mirabel International Airport, north of Montreal, in unprecedented numbers: 469 Turks, 106 Chileans and smaller groups of Sri Lankans and Lebanese, all eager to live in Canada. Fleeing poverty or violence in their home countries, they came with few possessions and little money amid suggestions that they paid middlemen as much as $2,000 for passports and passage to Canada. Guy Julien, Mirabel’s senior immigration officer, worked 16-hour days last week processing the influx of
applicants for refugee status. Said Julien: “It’s like somebody over there told them they had to get in before New Year’s.”
The arrivals from Turkey are the latest evidence of a seven-month-long increase in Turkish immigration to Canada. Almost 2,000 Turks—double the size of Montreal’s Turkish communityhave arrived at Mirabel and applied for refugee status since June. Under existing rules, they are allowed to stay in Canada—and are eligible for welfare payments and other benefits—while their claims are studied. Immigration officers told Maclean's that most of the newcomers ask to become landed immigrants when they arrive, but soon request refugee status. Said one official: “The Turks tell you openly that they are here for economic reasons. It is only after the Canadian lawyers get their hands on them that they clue into the system and claim refugee status.”
The latest arrivals prompted federal Immigration Minister Benoît Bouchard
to say that the government will propose changes by the end of January to the way Ottawa decides who is eligible for refugee status. That can now take as long as five years. Bouchard said that he wants to cut that to just a few months. A spokesman for the external affairs department in Ottawa said that it sent an official to Turkey for 10 days in November to express Canadian concern over the growing number of Turkish immigrants to Canada. Since then, the Canadian embassy in Ankara has placed ads in Turkish newspapers to dis-
courage would-be refugees. Kaya Toperi, Turkey’s ambassador to Canada, said that the increase may be due to unscrupulous Turkish middlemen who paint a rosy picture of Canada as a country with easy access and lots of jobs.
Still, about 60 of the Turks who entered Canada over the past year have gone back. Hasan Kesen, 36, who came just last week, told Maclean's that he decided to return just 10 minutes after arriving, when immigration officials told him he would not be allowed to work for several months. Canadian officials say that they hope such experiences will deter other Turks from coming to Canada, but the influx shows no sign of abati.ng. Said Omar Robleh, 30, a Turk studying in Washington, D.C., since 1982 and who arrived without a visa at Mirabel last week: “I came here because Canada is the easiest place to get in.”
-BRUCE WALLACE with LISA VAN DUSEN in Montreal and PAUL GESSELL in Ottawa
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